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Articles Blog

Filtering by Category: Middle East

Istanbul Shopping

Karyn Planett

Turkish Delights

Oh it’s ever so tempting to wend your way through the narrow covered lanes of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, rich with the scent of a thousand spices. As the cacophony swirls around you in a baffling tongue, just take in the pitch and pace of it all. Then feast on the delights of gold displayed behind walls of jewelry cases. And stacks of carpets piled high, doubling as a lounge when the shopkeeper feels a lull. There’s enough brass on view to sink the Bismarck or reflect the sun's rays across the Bosporus. You'll find a sea of leather, enough to redo your entire winter wardrobe. And delicate miniatures painted with the most intricate strokes upon slivers of camel bone. There’s even fine bulk henna for your red-headed Auntie in Akron for, yes, you have truly stumbled upon one of the world's most exotic and exciting shopping heavens where even a hard-core penny-pincher would buckle. Now, all you have to do is simply keep it all from going to your head, and … your wallet. 

First Things First 

A wise shopper keeps a few rules in mind especially when going up against some of the world's greatest Olympic-level salesmen with resumes as long as a caftan. 

Know the merchandise. It's smart not to purchase ANYTHING for at least an hour. Pretend your credit card has melted and your money is someplace else. Whatever. Just wander around and see what type of merchandise is available; what the price range is; and which shopkeeper has the best selection. 

Do not look like the Duchess of Kent when you arrive. It's really tough to bargain when you’re wearing your personal crown jewels. Well, it's OK if you don't mind overpaying, but if you want a decent price... leave the gems at home. 

Know the exchange rate. If the price is written in Turkish Lira and you ask, "How much is this in dollars?"'re doomed. Occasionally the salesman's math skills become skewed. Do the arithmetic yourself. 

Bargain with the same zeal you negotiate bedtime with the kids. Hold firm. And remember NEVER PAY THE ASKING PRICE. Some veterans suggest offering half the tagged price. Then expect to settle somewhere in between. That's OK and should work fine. But as you get close to an agreed upon price, you can give in and accept the merchant's figure..... if, and only if, he throws in that cuuute little fez over there! This way, everyone is happy. 

But also ask yourself, "What’s it really worth?" Do I want to pay $200 for this camel saddle? Or $300 for this scimitar? Then, question number two..."Will this brass shoeshine stand really work in my provincial “salt box ”townhouse on Cape Cod?" Do try not to get too swept up in the moment. 

Also, shop with a friend. If you’re seriously shopping for a special item (read “pricy”), then shop with someone who also wants to make the same purchase. The buying power of two is far greater than one. 

And always remember that the merchant is due a fair profit on his wares. If you walk away, then you do. Not all negotiations come to an agreeable end. There should be no hard feelings, just no deal. 

Finally, the last piece of advice... if you want it, get it! There's nothing worse than lusting over, for the rest of recorded time, that perfect-for-the-game-room Masai spear; or that gorgeous blown-glass Venetian chandelier; or what about that exquisite cloisonné from Hong Kong; or those fabulous Argentine gaucho pants. If you really want it, get it because you and your credit card might not be this way again for a very, very long time. 

How to Make a Killing on a Kilim 

Turkish carpets are famous the world over for they are reputed to be more pliable than their rival counterparts. One very famous Turkish carpet is the Kilim, which is recognized by its bold Anatolian designs and vivid colors. The very meaning of Kilim is, "a flat-woven rug free from a knotted pile." Collectors and enthusiasts have created a resurgence in respect for the Kilim following years as being viewed as the poor man's carpet. For a long time, traders preferred the Oriental knotted carpets and ignored the Kilims for they believed them to be of lesser value, nothing more than a tribal handicraft. 

Early weavers created these carpets to decorate the floors and walls of nomadic peoples' tents. The vast interiors of the mosques were piled high with Kilims. Along with jewels and clothing, Kilims represented the owner's wealth that, if necessary, could be traded for food or money during financial difficulties. These carpets also formed part of a bride's dowry. Today, Kilims are produced in factories throughout Turkey. Regional differences can be identified by a trained eye and serious collectors can name the tribe or district a certain carpet represents. Then again, many of today's enthusiasts simply prefer the ones that work well with their rumpus room’s color scheme. 

So, whether you intend to make a purchase or are just interested in seeing these carpets as an art form, you really should allow yourself some time with a Turkish carpet salesman. It’s an experience almost like no other. However, when buying know your carpets and bargain hard! 

                                                                        Karyn L. Planet

Trabzon, Turkey

Karyn Planett

Trade and Tradition 

The proud nation of Turkey is shaped surprisingly like an almost perfect rectangle surrounded by the busy waters of three different seas. The Aegean laps the country’s western shores, the Mediterranean the southern, and the Black Sea the northern beaches where Trabzon is located. Plus there’s the aquatic embrace of the Sea of Marmara in the northwestern part of the country. 

If this alone doesn’t spell enough intrigue and opportunity for powerful traders and rulers alike, it would be difficult to guess what would. So this is precisely why a seaport like Trabzon has always been in the crosshairs of opportunists bent on wresting away from the existing powers the valuable trade that was carried out along this lucrative stretch of the Silk Route. Among the treasures piled high atop pack animals and beasts of burden lumbering through here were aromatic spices, glittering gemstones, shimmering silks, priceless gold and ivory. With it came the whispers and influences of different cultures and religions and Trabzon experienced it all, for it was the terminus of the Caucassia / Iran transit road, between Central Asia, Persia and the Black Sea, near the Zigana Pass. It’s a cartographer’s dream come true. 

Even today, Trabzon is the largest port on the entire Black Sea coast. 

Remnants From A Turbulent Past

What stands out among the historic events that played out in this region? Well, a trip up Boztepe Peak offers a visual overview, so to speak. In the distance you’ll spot the outlines of mosques and churches, a citadel, and the verdant hills beyond. Many chapters of Trabzon’s history, as you will learn, were written in blood since its founding in 1000 BC by traders from Sinope. Romans, Goths, and Byzantines all battled here and left their marks. Evidence of these occupations is written on the walls of their houses of worship. Many appear before you. 

Considered Trabzon’s most important structure, St. Sophia Church is a must. The original structure was built by an important family known as Commenos in the 13th century, but was expanded by Emperor Manuel Paleologos VIII. When Mehmed II conquered Trabzon, 1461, he converted it to a mosque. During Byzantine times it was a monastery and the beautifully preserved paintings and frescoes highlight these times. Thankfully, this Trabzon centerpiece has been protected since 1957 as an important museum. 

Other notable religious structures include the Gatih Mosque with its three naves dedicated to Mother Mary, and the Gulbahar Hatun Mosque dating back to the 15th century. The site that probably holds the greatest interest for many Turks is the house where their beloved founder of this nation, Mustafa Kamel Ataturk, lived in 1921. A wander through Akcaabat, with its traditional Turkish houses, showcases the lifestyle of Trabzon’s ordinary people. 

Beyond Trabzon Proper 

Sumela Monastery is first on many visitor’s itineraries and rightfully so. Founded in 386 AD by Athenian monks, it’s perched on a sheer cliff 1200 meters up in the Pontic Mountains looking out toward the Altindere Valley. It, too, has a turbulent history. When the Russian Empire occupied Trabzon from 1916 to 1918, they seized the monastery. Then, in 1923, there was a forced population exchange and the monks had to leave, taking nothing with them. Cleverly, however, they buried the monastery’s famous icon under the floorboards in St. Barbara’s Chapel. Seven years later, one of the monks sneaked back into the monastery, retrieved the icon, and secreted it out to safety in the Panagia Soumela Monastery near Naousa, Greece. 

Well, with this tale to ponder, visitors to the region relax on the shores of Lake Uzungol some 4,000 feet up in the mountains. Families picnic on fresh trout or cooked local anchovies with rice called hamsi pilar or such traditional foods as karadeniz pidesi (a type of bread filled with cheese or minced meats), tava misir ekmek (corn bread) served with akcaabat kofte (spicy meatballs made of ground lamb), all followed by tea from the nearby Pontus Mountains or a typical yogurty drink called Aryan and hamsikoy rice pudding. 

Treats For Friends Back Home 

Like visitors to Trabzon before you, you simply must come away with some wonderful treasures like a make kemence instrument, similar to our fiddle. The Kemeralti Bazaar is where the townspeople shop or at the Russian market with goods from neighboring countries. Uzun Sokak is a walking street that’s abuzz all day long. Merchants along Kunduracilar Street offer traditional gold and silver woven bracelets called hasir bilezik that carry high prices. You can also search in the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Bazaar with its main entrance Kunduracilar Caddesi. 

Tired from shopping… consider sitting in a café watching locals smoke hubbly bubbly hookahs while playing backgammon, learn about the Pontic people who speak a form of ancient Greek, or ask someone to demonstrate a few steps from the horon. It’s a dance seen at festive events like weddings with dancers performing in a circle. Then you can show them the hokey-pokey.

                                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Sinop, Turkey

Karyn Planett

Faded Glory

“The most beautiful natural harbor on the Black Sea.” 

Ah, such a glowing assessment as voiced again and again throughout Sinop’s history, commemorated by the pen of each occupier from ancient times to the present. The Amazons, the Hittites, the Greeks, the Persians, the Ottomans have all sung its mighty praises then taken advantage of the geographic importance of this northernmost point in Turkey. Their stories, as well as their societies’ remnants, form the ingredients for Sinop’s allure.Through The Myths Of Time. 

Sinop is draped atop an isthmus between the Bozetepe Peninsula and the mainland, once protected by a citadel whose remains can still be seen. Towering, heavily forested mountains form a natural barrier preventing easy access from Sinop to the Anatolian Plateau that defines central Turkey. So, while its natural harbor provided the means to dominate Black Sea trade, isolation from the rest of Asia Minor by land eventually led to Sinop’s demise. 

There is little agreement among scholars as to the founding of Sinop. The most likely first inhabitants were the Hittites. Giving credit to the Hittites, though, would spoil other more romantic theories. Young Greek sailors known as the Argonauts (of Jason and the Golden Fleece fame) were said to have established an outpost here while sailing the Black Sea in search of treasure and trouble. Another legend holds that the mists obscuring the rocks of the rising peninsula also hid the home of the Cyclops. But the favorite theory gives the founding of Sinop to the Amazons. 

The Amazons? 

Were they really real? A great deal of mythology and precious little hard evidence exists to answer that burning question. There were, in those many centuries ago, women warriors who may have fought with a number of different armies. Whether they ever constituted an organized society is less certain. Nonetheless, this all makes for great theater, so let’s just play along. 

For the record, the Amazons are credited as the first to settle Sinop, naming it after one of their queens, Sinova. The Amazons had a dual queendom—one for defense, one for domestic affairs. Several of their queens reportedly did battle with, and were killed by, Hercules. One was killed by Achilles and another was said to have borne a child to Alexander The Great. Let’s hope it was a girl because no men were permitted to live in Amazon territory. To keep the tribe going, Amazon women mated for a few days each year with men from a neighboring tribe. Female children were embraced by the community. Male children were killed or, if lucky, sent away with their fathers.     

City State 

For much of its recorded history, Sinop was a pawn in the constant ebb and flow of various empires attempting to establish control over Asia Minor. Sinop’s citizens may have owed allegiance to a string of powerful armies but, due to its topographic isolation, it was never controlled by them. Instead they went about using their geographic position to establish a rich trading business, while quietly paying taxes to whichever ruler claimed them at any given moment. 

The city did have one famous citizen, Diogenes “the Cynic”, who was exiled along with his father when they were caught in a counterfeiting scam. Diogenes immigrated to Athens where he became such a notable homeless person—living in a tub and carrying a lamp during the day “in search of an honest man”—he was ultimately recognized as a philosopher. His statue stands proudly in Sinop 

Fast forward to more recent times, Sinop became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century and had its final moment in the sun during the Crimean War when it was virtually destroyed by the Russian navy. Its neighbor to the east, Samsun, has since supplanted Sinop as the most active Black Sea port. 

Ataturk And Modern Turkey 

Samsun also played a significant role in the formation of modern Turkey. It was there that Mustafa Gamal Ataturk fled during the struggle for national liberation following World War I. From this base, Ataturk rallied the Turkish population to his cause, declared independence from the European powers trying to exert their influence in the post-Ottoman vacuum, and wrote the constitution that defines Turkey today. 

As a secular Muslim state, Turkey once again plays a central role befitting its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. (Sinop’s Aladdin Mosque from 1268 does bear witness to the nation’s main religion.) A powerful and active member of NATO on one hand, not yet a member of the European Union on the other, Turkey is beholden to neither east nor west. As such, it takes a quiet but influential diplomatic lead where other governments cannot publicly go. With one of the world’s largest standing armies, with resources that give it long-term economic viability, and as one of a handful of countries able to feed itself (as evidenced in Gerze’s bustling produce market), Turkey is poised to recapture some of the former glory of empires past. 

                                                Karyn L. Planett 

Manama, Bahrain

Karyn Planett

The Keys To The Kingdom 

One thing you can say about the Bedouin … when they settle down and set up camp, they create some pretty spectacular places. Several of these “settlements” just happen to border the Persian Gulf and one of them happens to be Bahrain. In 1783, the Al Khalifa clan, most recently of Zumara in Qatar, attacked the islands of Bahrain. When the skirmishing ended, they liked what they saw, pitched their tents, put the pot on the boil, and stayed. Shaykh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalid is their current Amir. 

The Bahrainis And The Brits 

In the 19th century, England was the big dog in the Persian Gulf. She was at the height of her ability to project British power around the world, and with substantial economic and political interests in the region, she was keen to exercise control over the occasionally unruly rulers of area’s desert kingdoms. At the same time, the Al Khalifa family was just as keen to consolidate their influence over Bahrain, influence that was under constant challenge from other powerful regional clans, especially the Omanis and Saudis. 

In a series of negotiated agreements with the British, culminating in the 1861 Perpetual Truce of Peace and Friendship, the Al Khalifas began to establish a secure regime. Armed with that important sounding document and all the British support it implied, Bahrain became a significant trading center in the Gulf and was on its way to modern statehood. 

The Bahrainis And The Bankers 

Trade brought wealth. Wealth brought an influx of cultures from far beyond the Gulf neighborhood. Soon Bahrain was host to merchants and bankers from Persia, Oman, India and beyond. A multicultural society was established long before the international set arrived in the rest of the Gulf in the late 20th century. Bahrain today still displays an Indian Ocean face rather than one of the Persian Gulf. Currently the economic base of Manama, capital of the kingdom, is financial services with over 200 financial institutions in the city center alone. And what might have led to this ascension to financial leadership? You guessed it … oil. 

The Bahrainis And Black Gold 

Oil. But not just jumping on the oil bandwagon. Bahrain was the location of the Gulf’s very first oil strike. The first well is now officially known as … wait for it … The First Well. It began flowing at 400 barrels per day, eventually growing to 70,000 bpd and has been rebuilt to resemble the original structure with a museum attached. That first strike served to tighten, even further, the Kingdom’s bond with the British. 

Concerned about the political stability of the country with an 80-year-old reigning sheik, the British encouraged him to turn the reins of power over to his son and appoint an administrator to ensure some political continuity and help modernize the state. An advertisement for an administrator in The London Times eventually turned up one Charles Dalrymple Belgrave, veteran of the Frontiers Districts Administration Camel Corps during the First World War. He served as Personal Adviser to the Amir from 1926 to 1957 at a starting salary of 720 pounds sterling. His family and friends knew him as “Carol” (don’t ask). 

Bahrain And The Burqa 

The Islamic Revolution that began in Iran put considerable pressure on Bahrain’s decidedly liberal culture. Previously, Sunnis, Shi’as, and a variety of minor religions had coexisted out of necessity in Bahrain’s open society. Iran targeted Bahrain’s majority Shi’a population as the place to export their revolution, leading to two decades of unrest, an increase of Islamic conservatism, and, as some claim, a loss of human rights. But in 1999, the new Amir led a return to constitutional rule, reinstated women’s rights, released political prisoners, and welcomed home exiles. The turnaround led to a free trade agreement with the United States and placed Bahrain once again on the Gulf’s list of good neighbors. 

Bahrain And Business 

The business of Bahrain today is business, whether commercial or retail. With a society that is one-third expat, it’s neither Islamic nor Arabic in total. Manama’s skyline features a distinctive lineup of modern architecture including its own World Trade Center, the Bahrain Financial Harbor, the National Bank of Bahrain Tower, and tallest of them all, the Almoayyed Tower. Some say it could be Dubai in the making. 

With the malls of the new downtown district of Seef, it exudes the love of luxury found throughout the oil producing countries. And with a 24-mile causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, the soon-to-be-built Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Bridge, a sparkling international airport, and a world class Formula One Circuit, Bahrain is no longer an island nation isolated by geography, but a full-fledged participant in regional and world affairs that just happens to be on an island. 

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Kuwait City, Kuwait

Karyn Planett

Like The Phoenix 

Extraordinary. It’s almost two decades since Iraq invaded Kuwait. Remember the rapid heartbeat and paralyzing fear that gripped us as the nightly news soberly detailed the dangers ahead. 

On that fateful early August day in 1990, the news rang out around the world that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. A long and hotly contested debate had raged on too long regarding the rich oil reserves of the Kuwaiti emirate and exactly who was the rightful owner of this black gold. 

This was the day known later as “Black Thursday.” 

Behind the invasion was Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein. International diplomats quickly flew into action, troops were massed, and high level posturing took on new and heightened meaning. Before our eyes, in our living rooms, the Persian Gulf War had begun. Iraq had declared that Kuwait was now it’s 19th province as the world watched, and waited. 

And the rest, as you know, is history as written in the pages of the Operation Desert Storm chapter. Eventually, the multi-national force wrestled back control of Kuwait. Detailed in Saddam Hussein’s radio message February 26th, 1991, his forces were withdrawing from Kuwait per his orders.   

Nationals returned. Embassies and banks reopened. A massive clean up of an oil spill resulting from Hussein’s order to explode Kuwait’s oil fields began. Some 732 Kuwaiti oil wells had been destroyed creating an ecological Armageddon. And, it was not until nine months later that the last oil fire was finally extinguished. 

It was not until 2008 that Kuwait appointed an ambassador to Iraq, the first since the Gulf War started in 1991. 

And that just about brings us up to today, when Kuwait is a nation well back on its feet and greeting travelers from the world over. You’ll soon join that small but elite cadre. 

So, What’s To See? 

Lots. You can start with the Kuwait Oil Display Center. It outlines the challenges faced by fire strike teams when stamping out the oil fires ignited during the invasion. To fill in other details, there’s the Martyr’s House that tells the tale of nine young Kuwaitis killed by invading troops for resisting arrest. 

On a lighter note, there’s the Marine Museum, completed in 1998 and housed in the Radisson SAS Hotel. Here you’ll discover the world’s largest wooden dhow, measuring 262 by 61 feet, named Al Hashemi II. Other examples are on view in the dhow harbor including the last pre-oil days wooden dhow, named Fateh el Kheir. No longer in use, it and others like it were once players in the vibrant and lucrative pearl industry that fell by the wayside when the world’s interest shifted from fashion to fossil fuels, your basic jewels to fuels shift. 

Another museum of note is the Tareq Rajab. Different wings offer exhibits of everything from manuscripts to musical instruments, calligraphy to traditional costumes. These 30,000 pieces represent the impressive collection of Tareq Sayed Rejab and his wife, Jehan Wellborne. Plus, there’s the National Museum with its Islamic art exhibits. Though it suffered terribly at the hands of the invaders, much of it has now been restored. Features include an antique cargo dhow and a 1986 planetarium, which details the drama of the Kuwaiti night skies. Both were deliberately set on fire during the invasion. You’ll hear that story as you explore this important facility. 

Want More? 

The Scientific Center is notable for housing the Middle East’s largest aquarium. Within are three departments, each with a different focus. There’s one for the coastal plant and animal life, another for marine flora and fauna, and a third for birds and mammals as well as the desert’s reptiles. A quick drive past the National Assembly and the Jahra Gate, which represents a section of the old city wall, will just about cap off your sightseeing. 

With time to spare you can peek at the offerings at the Al Lothan Craft center, which features traditional handicrafts from the region. There are also many fine boutiques because the average Kuwaiti definitely knows his designer duds—everything from his Dolce to his Gabbana, watches to handbags, and trendy eyewear to this season’s sauciest shoes. If it’s designer this and that, they got it. 

When one wearies from all this sightseeing and shopping, and the midday sun has driven home its point, just know that a cool respite awaits in the 400-foot-tall Kuwait Towers. Opened in 1979, the Swedish architect behind this building knew how to capitalize on the million-Dinar view of Kuwait City and the vast reaches of the Arabian Gulf beyond. 

So, with a journalful of memories, it’s on to the next destination … one to complete your Middle Eastern tableau. 

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Kusadasi, Turkey

Karyn Planett

Aegean Antiquity

Three thousand years ago, when men struggled to eke out an existence along the shores of what is now Turkey’s Aegean coast, the founding fathers of Ephesus planned their new city. These enlightened citizens assembled a legion of architects and stone masons, laborers and woodworkers on the banks of the Cayster River where it meets the sea.

At the height of its prosperity, in the Golden Age (2nd century AD), more than 300,000 people lived and worked in Ephesus. It monopolized the wealth of the Middle East and was one of the principal ports of the Mediterranean. As a commercial and financial power, it was also the seat of intellectual advancement.

Monuments were erected. Theaters were filled with spectators. Many temples were built for the worship of their gods and goddesses, including Artemis. She was the virgin daughter of Zeus and is known to us also as Diana. As the city’s protectress, Artemis’ temple was so spectacular it was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The Ephesians, while at the pinnacle of their success, greeted camel caravans which brought them spices, silks, and treasures from the empires to the East. Ships dropped anchor in their protected harbor, also bringing with them goods from lands afar. However, other ships brought marauding forces. Thus the rule over Ephesus changed hands many times throughout history.

Two Citizens of Note

Alexander the Great and his forces governed Ephesus for 11 years until his death in 323 BC. The Romans followed, ruled for centuries, and left their unmistakable mark on Ephesus as well. Along with the Romans came St. Paul who established his headquarters here from 49 to AD 52. The citizens were not always pleased with St. Paul for he attempted to convert them, telling them to turn away from their goddess Artemis. For these actions, he was jailed in Ephesus for a period of time.

In the 3rd century AD, the Goths literally destroyed the city and all the temples. Unfortunately, the people never regained their former prosperity. The Turks attempted to revive Ephesus but their sights were mainly focused on Constantinople (Istanbul) to the north. Over time the Cayster River silted up and the city was no longer a viable seaport. As the years passed, Ephesus was all but abandoned. The cruel elements took their toll on the structures. Vandals looted the treasures and left nothing but a shell of the city’s former glory.

Then, in 1863, a gentleman by the name of J. T. Wood, employed by the British Museum, began to excavate the ruins of Ephesus unearthing the palaces and temples, theaters and marketplaces. And to this day, digs are still being conducted on these magnificent ruins.

The Virgin Mary’s Last Days

Legend tells us that Saint John escorted the Virgin Mary to the shores of Ephesus somewhere between AD 37 and 45 following the death of her son on the cross. At age 64, Mary passed away in a small home which was built near the sacred spring at Panayia Kapili, just beyond the city proper in a valley known as the Mount of the Nightingales. Her home, now totally restored, appears more as a small stone chapel than a private residence. There are some historians today who dispute this account of Mary’s burial in Ephesus for there is also a tomb in Jerusalem that is believed to be hers. However, both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have traveled to this small stone home in Ephesus to offer their holy blessings.

Some Important Sights

As you wander down the well-worn stone paths of Ephesus there are a number of important sights you should not miss. Surely you’ll stroll along the Arcadian Way, which was once paved in marble and lined with columns, for a look at the Harbor Thermal Baths and the Roman Forum. Pause to take in the view from the Theater, which many believe to be the ruins’ most remarkable structure. It was here that the citizens of Ephesus listened to St. Paul as he preached against the goddess Artemis. At times 25,000 people packed the theater to take in special performances.

To the right of the Marble Road is the huge esplanade of the lower agora (marketplace), the gigantic columns of the Temple of Serapis, and the front section of the now-restored Celsus Library. Of particular interest along the Couretes Road is the elegant facade of the Temple of Hadrian, the Trajan Fountain, a well-preserved odeon, the colonnaded upper agora, and the remains of the gymnasium.

Relax for a moment on a cool marble block and reflect upon the vision of this celebrated landscape, allowing it to sink deep into your soul. You have walked in the long shadow of history, along the paths of Ephesus worn smooth by centuries.

                                                                                Karyn L. Planett

King Tut

Karyn Planett

Curse Of The Mummy 

“Now when he was a young man,

He never thought he’d see

People stand in line to see the boy king.”

--From the hit single King Tut, words and music by Steve Martin. 

In fact, for a king who never reached the age of majority, who is credited with virtually no major accomplishments, who’s name nearly disappeared from all historical records, and who is still not included in the classic kings lists of Abydos and Karnak (oh, the humiliation), Tutankhamum is by acclimation an icon of Egypt comparable to the pyramids and the sphinx. 

“Born In Arizona, Moved To Babylonia” 

Actually, there is no record of where Tut was born, nor even any hard evidence of his parentage. In 1333 BC at age nine he became king and was married to his half sister, Ankhesenpaaten, who was of childbearing age (about 14) and had already had a child by her father. As a minor he was not able to rule directly and so his reign was marked by palace intrigues among caretakers, regents, advisors, and family pretenders. One of these intrigues resulted in his death at age 17 or 18. How and by whom is the subject of much forensic research and even more dramatic conjecture.

Central to the most popular theories are a hole in the skull of his remains and some bone chips at its base. The hole can probably be explained by the tradition of removing brain tissue before mummification, although this was usually done through the nose to avoid disfiguring the corpse. The bone chips suggest a blow to the back of the head and some wildly entertaining speculation about who may have delivered it.

Chief among the suspects was Ay, Tut’s vizier who ascended to the throne after his death… and married Tut’s wife! He may have been assisted by General Horernhab, chief of the pharaoh’s armies who became king after Ay (but missed out on the oft-married Ankhesenpaaten who by then had been murdered by Ay anyway). 

Egyptian tradition suggests that since the blow could only have been delivered from behind, the only two people who could have struck it were his personal attendant or his cup-bearer as they were the only ones trusted to approach the pharaoh from the rear. But whom would they have been working for? Perhaps a spy, the unsavory Dudu, who was not an Egyptian at all and was later discovered to be in the employ of a Palestinian state. Even Tut’s wife has been mentioned among the suspects as she is linked to evidence of poisoning as the cause of death, and may have been in cahoots with the cup-bearer (in the conservatory, with the rope). 

“Buried With A Donkey, He’s My Favorite Honky.” 

Once again, there is no evidence that a donkey was among the vast treasure that accompanied Tut to the afterlife. By the Twentieth Century, every other tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes had been discovered and plundered by legions of grave robbers. Even Tut’s tomb was robbed at least twice shortly after his death but the keepers of the necropolis replaced all the artifacts that were stolen. Somewhere along the line, construction of another tomb nearby resulted in the entrance to Tut’s tomb being buried by rock chips and hidden from all until 1922. 

In that year, an English archaeologist named Howard Carter discovered the entrance to the tomb and, inside, the solid gold casket, the golden mask, and the rest of the jewels, amulets, and artifacts that have become one of the most popular touring exhibitions in the world. He also unleashed the mummy’s curse. 

“Born In Arizona, Got A Condo Made Of Stone-a.” 

On a clay tablet outside the entrance to the burial chamber were the words, “Death will slay with his wings whoever disturbs the peace of the pharaoh.” The day the seal was broken on Tut’s tomb, Carter’s pet canary was eaten by a cobra (an unusual occurrence as cobra’s were out of season) and the lights went out in Cairo (not an unusual occurrence, even today). As the cobra is a well-known symbol of the pharoah’s powers, this event triggered a frenzy of media coverage and the “curse of Tutankhamum” was born—not all of it pure invention. 

Seven weeks after the discovery, Lord Carnarvon, Carter’s sponsor, died from an infected mosquito bite on his cheek, exactly in the location where one was found on the mummy! Carvaron’s dog dropped dead the same day. Five months after Carvaron’s death, his younger brother died. Within ten years, six of the people associated with the opening of the tomb had died in mysterious circumstances.

“He Coulda Won a Grammy, Buried in his Jammies.” 

Curses, in fact, were the preferred method of deterring grave robbers (although none seem to have worked particularly well). Some of the more imaginative as translated from hieroglyphics are:

“As for anyone who shall lay a finger on this pyramid…(he will be) one who eats himself.”

“I shall seize his neck like that of a goose.”

“He shall have no heir (or maybe hair, we’re not sure).”

“He shall be miserable and persecuted.”

“A donkey shall violate him, a donkey shall violate his wife.”

“He shall be cooked together with the condemned.”

“Listen all of you! Anyone who does anything bad to my tomb, then the crocodile, hippopotamus, and lion will eat him.” 

Anyone who thinks this is all a bit of nonsense should consider this recent wire service story from February 21, 2005. 

“Curse of King Tut Haunts Mourning Woman”

Dateline Cairo---A South African woman, owner of a piece of jewelry believed stolen from the tomb of King Tutankhamen, has asked the government in Cairo for help in breaking King Tut’s curse after two members of her family suffered untimely deaths.” 

Enough said. 

                                                                                    Karyn L. Planett

Musandam, Oman

Karyn Planett

The Arabian Desert 

A parched, dry wind swirls as a curious hawk circles overhead. Faithful Muslims scurry off to morning prayers, beckoned by powerful voices ringing out from slender minarets. Shihuh fishermen take to the sea, as did their forefathers, while women ready their children for school. The Omani people awaken for another day with the singular twist that they’ll soon greet visitors from afar. Your day will be equally intriguing as you explore a destination unfamiliar to most world travelers. Oman is far from the path even the most intrepid travelers walk down. It is nonetheless worthy of the journey. 

Some Quick Facts 

Oman is a Sultanate. Musandam is a Governate in the northern region of the Sultanate. Khasab, also known as Al Khasab, is a port town in Oman’s Musandam Peninsula. Her population is 5,000 and counting. Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates are Oman’s neighbors, all washed by the warm waters of the Arabian (Persian) Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, and the Strait of Hormuz. The Strait is only 35 miles wide, 180 feet deep, and is the strategic chokepoint through which 90% of the entire Gulf’s production of oil passes. 

Musandam, though part of the Sultanate of Oman, is separated and isolated from the rest of the country by territory belonging to the U.A.E. This isolation was made more complete by its inaccessibility. It was not until 1990 that a rough track was cut between Khasab and the border. Seven years later it was paved. And there wasn’t even a hotel in Khasab until 1982. Plus, Khasab is more than 300 miles from Muscat, the nation’s capital.   

There are three million people spread across this country though the majority live along the 150-mile-long, fertile al-Bitinah alluvial strip. Date palm groves and banana plantations cover that landscape. Drier areas, with poorer soil and less vegetation, are home to herders of goats, camels, and sheep. 

Khasab sits astride a rugged area formed 1850 million years ago, give or take, during the Cretaceous and Miocene ages. It’s tucked into the sculpted white limestone cliffs in a landscape often compared to the Norwegian fjords … without the green and/or snow. Omani fjords are called khors. 

This coastline is surrounded by waters that are home to 22 species of dolphins and whales. Their antics entertain visitors on dhow cruises as well as diver and snorkels alike. Dhows are traditional sailing vessels typical to the region. In the past, they sailed from Omani ports to such distant destinations as India for teak, even Canton, China and Africa’s Zanzibar. In fact, Zanzibar was an Omani conquest until the 1960s. Telegraph Island, once an important link in the British / Indian telegraph cable put in place in 1864, is also visible. 

The country became independent, free from British rule, in 1971. Sultan Qabus Ibn Sa’id is the nation’s absolute monarch and today Oman enjoys the benefit of the prosperity of rich oil and natural gas reserves. 

A Look Back In Time         

Clinging to the Khasab waterfront is the old fort. Found within the restored walls are slender, wooden Omani boats. Copies of these craft replicate some prehistoric carvings and are often on offer in the neighboring village of Tawi. The port area is lively with the comings and goings of tin boats carrying electronic goods and such to Iran, returning later with goats and sheep by the flock. 

The towering stone watchtower of Khasab Castle punctuates the wind-swept landscape. Dating back to the 1600s, it was erected by Portuguese invaders as protection against outsiders sailing into Khasab Bay. It also protected their source for fresh water, fish, even dates. Some historians believe this tower actually predates the castle. Small canons, with their aim square on the sea, were still in use 100 years ago. It’s not claimed they served as an actual defense, but to announce the moon’s signal that Muslim Eid celebrations were about to begin including the completion of Ramadan’s month-long period of fasting.

Into The Countryside 

Bukha is a small area known as a wilayah approximately an hour’s drive from the port. Reached by a ribbon of coastal road, fishermen and ancient stone towers add drama to this bone-dry landscape. 

The Bedouin village of Sayah rests at 3608 feet and affords a stunning view of Khasab and the surrounding bay. Jebel Harim, known as the “village of women”, sits astride the tallest peak on the Musandam Peninsula, well beyond dry riverbeds called wadis and shady acacia groves. 

Traditional Dress 

Omani people are conservative and dress accordingly. Many women wear burkhas (face masks) or khimars (veils) with their long black abaya cover-ups. Henna and gold decorate their hands. Men don dishdashas, long dress shirts with farakhas (knotted tassels), massars (turbans) or kumma (embroidered caps). Visitors are particularly welcomed to Oman if they recognize this conservativeness and dress accordingly. Bedu hospitality is then legendary. So, take away great memories and possibly some souvenirs like khanjars (silver daggers) and Omani frankincense. Leaving here without a memento from the souks seems a shame, don’t you think? 

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Karyn Planett

Gateway to Mecca

Mecca. Rome. Jerusalem. Lhasa. Varanasi.    

Each fabled city stands at the heart of global faiths whose beacons light up the darkness and stir the souls of believers the world over. Though Mecca has served as a place of pilgrimage for 4000 years, it wasn’t until the 7th century that a “gateway” to receive the faithful who came by sea was opened in the port of Jeddah. Until then, anxious pilgrims were forced to lumber across the blistering Arabian Peninsula by camel caravan.

The Hajj In The Time Of Abraham 

For the record, the Hajj is the pilgrimage made to Mecca by faithful Muslims. Hajjis have made this pilgrimage. Now, on to its story. 

It was Abraham with his son Ishmael who built the Kaaba, that square structure at the center of what is now the Maasjid al-Haram mosque where most of the Hajj rituals happen, and the place toward which all Muslims face during prayers. 

Why Mecca? 

Although surrounded by completely barren countryside, the location of Mecca had one great advantage, known to desert dwellers the world over. A well. In this case the Zamzam Well. 

In Islamic history this well was discovered by Abraham’s son, Ishmail. He was suffering a powerful thirst, which had already caused his mother, Hajar, to run back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah searching for a water source. Frustrated, little Ishmael began kicking the earth around him and suddenly water gushed forth where his feet had scraped. 

The Zamzam Well and its surrounding oasis became a natural crossroads for caravans traversing the region and Mecca became, and still is, a major commercial center in Saudi Arabia. 

The Hajj In The Time Of Muhammad 

Muhammad, who was born in Mecca, and his army of 10,000 Muslims, reclaimed Mecca for Allah in 628. He purged the Kaaba of its pagan deities, declared Mecca the holiest site in Islam, decreed that non-Muslims would never again be admitted to the city, made the Hajj one of the Five Pillars of Islam (along with prayer, profession of faith, giving of alms, and fasting), and began an expansion of his faith that would see the Muslim Empire grow to include North Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe. 

The Hajj must be carried out by every Muslim with the ability and the means at least once in his lifetime. The rituals of the Hajj go back to the stories of Abraham. They include drinking water from the Zamzam Well; traversing the path between Safa and Marwah; walking seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba and kissing the black stone at its corner; standing vigil for a day on the Plains of Arafat; Stoning the Devil at the jamarat pillars in nearby Mina; and slaughtering an animal in recognition of God’s mercy on Abraham. Though not required, many pilgrims also visit Muhammad’s tomb at the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina before ending the pilgrimage.           

The Modern Hajj         

The rituals of the modern Hajj have become somewhat symbolized out of necessity due to a number of tragic events over the years. And, no wonder. Having upwards of three million people trying to occupy an ancient space intended for thousands is a recipe for trouble. As air travel makes the pilgrimage more accessible to 1.3 billion Muslims from around the world, those numbers continue to increase exponentially. 

The result is predictable. 

In 1990, 1426 pilgrims were trampled in a stampede; in 1994, 270 died; in 1998, 180; in 2004, 251; and in 2006, 346 were killed, 289 injured. Epidemics, road accidents, and “natural” causes contribute even more to the grisly tally. In response, the Saudi government has instituted crowd control measures to relieve the congestion that leads to these mob panics.

Pilgrims circling the Kaaba are now permitted to point at it each time around rather than having to kiss the black stone. 

The Zamzam Well is no longer accessible to the public. Its water is instead pumped to drinking fountains and faucets throughout the pilgrimage area. 

Stoning the Devil takes place from the multi-level Jamarat Bridge against three flat walls constructed with catch basins at the bottom to corral the rocks, thus removing the danger of stray missiles. 

Pilgrims can now purchase a butcher’s credit for a slaughtered animal (a sheep from a single worshipper, a cow for groups of seven) rather than personally dispatching it. The meat is given to charities to feed the poor. 

Air-conditioned pedestrian tunnels, complete with handicap lanes, have been constructed for the trek between Safa and Marwah to cut down on heat-related incidents. 


Those eschewing their own pilgrimage will be rewarded with the substantial delights of Jeddah. Like Mecca before it, Jeddah enjoys the advantages of being at a commercial crossroads. And commerce can be experienced at every level — the camel market and Al-Alawi souk exist alongside the glittering boutiques of Tahlia Street. Every roundabout on the modern road system features a significant sculpture, one of the largest outdoor art galleries around, while old Jeddah struggles to preserve its traditional wood beam houses. 

Centuries of traders and decades of oil industry expats have combined to make Jeddah the most open and cosmopolitan city in a normally closed Saudi Arabian society. It’s such a contrast to its nearby neighbor – that place of devout pilgrimage. 

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Haifa, Israel

Karyn Planett

City of Tolerance 

Seems rather curious Haifa’s signature landmark heralds a faith not commonly associated with Israel. It’s true. You see approximately 3/4th of Israel’s total population of 7.59 million is of Jewish heritage, nearly 20% are Muslims, Christians represent 2% as do those observing the Druze faith. Nearly 4% are “unclassified by choice” and that’s where we find the Bahá’í followers. 

In fact, that glittering golden dome looming high above Haifa’s cityscape belongs to the Bahá’í at their World Center of the Bahá’í Faith. If you’ve traveled previously to Israel’s major religious sites you should consider taking a closer look at this complex to discover their contribution to Israel’s multi-cultural fabric. 

Shrine Of The Bab 

The Bahá’í faith is considered by some to be the world’s newest independent religion. Bahá’u’lláh, recognized as its founder, was born in Persia in 1817 and died just north of the Israeli city of Acre where his remains are today. As with other spiritual leaders, he was born into substantial wealth then walked away from his earthly comforts and worldly goods to begin speaking the words of The Báb (meaning “The Gate”). The Báb was also born in Persia, but in 1819, and declared that the Messenger of God would appear soon to all the people of the world. His proclamations so alarmed the authorities that he was arrested then executed on July 9th, 1850. The Báb’s remains are entombed atop Mt. Carmel, in the Bahá’í’s Shrine of the Báb. 

Every five years, the faithful gather in Haifa to elect representatives for the Bahá’í Universal House of Justice whose members address issues affecting their worldwide members. The curious join confirmed believers making pilgrimages to Haifa from, per Bahá’í official statistics, “188 countries and 45 dependent territories or overseas departments.” Some five million in total, they worship at 116,000 localities promoting an end to all strife; equality for the sexes; and education and justice for everyone. What you see before you is the nucleus of their universe including the half-mile-long “Hanging Gardens”. And, directly below that is the “German Colony” established in the 19th century by the German Templars. 

Israel’s “Beautiful Coast”           

To properly explore this part of the world requires, well, a lifetime for some scholars. Your visit is short so choose your path wisely. Follow in the footsteps of your personal faith or visit important historic sites. If you wish to remain in the country’s third-largest city Haifa (Hebrew for “Beautiful Coast”) explore by following something called the “Step Tours”, four walking routes that are generally well-marked. Remember this city traces it origins back to 1400 BC. Other options include a walk along the seashore’s Louis Promenade, a cable car ride up the mountain, or a visit to the Hebrew prophet Elijah’s Cave at the base of Cape Carmel beneath the lighthouse and the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. Many believe it was here where important events in the life of Elijah, the 9th-century BC Prophet, occurred. He taught, sought refuge and meditated here. Do verify opening times before visiting. 

Further Afield 

Tough choices. Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee should be seen by all visitors. Nazareth is considered the “hometown of Jesus” and is where you find the Basilica of the Annunciation, built in 1969 over the traditional site where the Virgin Mary received word from the Angel Gabriel she would soon bear the Savior. Today, it’s the Middle East’s largest church. Note some scholars believe Mary received this news at what is now the Church of St. Gabriel. 

The Sea of Galilee is another holy site. Fed by the Jordan River, it’s known by many names. Many significant Christian events occurred here as Jesus lived in Capernaum for some time. In Cana, it was said He turned water into wine. In Tabgha, Jesus multiplied the loves and fishes. 

Acre, known as well as Acco among other incarnations, is a World Heritage Site for many reasons. Once a Crusader City, its archaeological sites are numerous including the Hospitaller’s Quarter and Dining Hall. The Crusaders conquered Acre in 1104 A.D., making it their empire’s most important port when they lost control of Jerusalem in 1187. The Mamluks seized control of Acre approximately one century later. Even Napoleon eyed Acre as strategically important declaring that, “the world would have been mine” had his attempt to seize control hadn’t failed in 1799. Restoration work and fine exhibits bring these stories to life. 

Caesarea is important in the history of Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed king of Judaea, who left his mark here in 25 B.C. The city, once the capital of Roman Palestine, was named after Augustus Caesar. Caesarea was eventually conquered by Moslems and Crusaders. Contemporary efforts bring this city’s fascinating history to life. 

There’s so much more to see. Safed, believed to have been founded after the great flood by one of Noah’s sons. The Golan Heights that have been significant throughout history, and even today as tensions flare and TV’s blare the reality of life in this region. 

If you’ve never been to a kibbutz, you should do so if not now then some day. Witness the daily lives of Kibbutzniks who band together to work farms, manage resorts, and collectively share the rewards of the fruits of their labor.

All too soon it’s time to reboard the ship and sail from the northern reaches of this historic land, a land few can visit then come away untouched by its importance.   

                                                                        Karyn L. Planett

Fethiye, Turkey

Karyn Planett

The Turquoise Coast 

Also known as the “Turkish Riviera”, that stretch of coastline in southwestern Turkey offers bone-chilling beauty, glorious weather and endless miles of beaches. But considering its historical and archaeological importance as well, some believe the Turquoise Riviera even surpasses the original one in France. For instance, legend has it that Mark Antony of Roman Empire fame thought this little slice of heaven would be the absolutely ideal gift for the object of his affection, Cleopatra. 

And, lucky for you, Fethiye sits smack in the middle of what would have been Cleopatra’s little gifty from her lover. 

The Blue Cruise 

Back in the 1920’s, shortly after the Turkish Republic emerged from the remains of the Ottoman Empire, vacationing Turks began traveling here on gulets, those sailing boats used by local sponge divers. These “blue cruises” survive today and are still the only way to explore some of the more secluded beaches and coves along this sculpted 600-mile-long coastline. 

Plus, two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World can also be found in this region—the Mausoleum of Maussollos in Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. The Seven Wonders were originally compiled by Antipater of Sidon in 140 BC as a guidebook for Hellenistic Greeks traveling the Aegean, Mediterranean and Middle East (the extent of the known world at the time). Actually, the original Greek title didn’t use “wonders” but “sights” or “things to see” and can be thought of as the original “1000 Places To See Before You Die”. You had to be a lucky Hellene to catch all seven, though, since they existed simultaneously for only 60 years. Only one, the Great Pyramid of Giza, remains intact today. 

For your next trivia game, the other four are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Now, where were we? Oh, yes. 

The Lycian League 

Throughout the ages all the great warriors, conquerors and empire builders passed through this area. The Greek god Apollo, disguised as a dog, wooed a local princess (don’t ask) and produced a son named Telmessos who lent his name to the original city where Fethiye sits today. Telmessos became part of the Persian Empire when they came rampaging through, then joined the Delian League for protection after the Greeks sent the Persians packing. Alexander the Great came calling on his way back from sacking the aforementioned Halicarnassus. While there, he engaged the services of Aristander as his personal seer, or fortune teller. 

In 168 BC, twenty-three independent city-states in the region formed a federal style government based on democratic principles designed to help them compete politically with larger nations. Each member sent representatives to a senate based on their relative size. Sound familiar? In fact, the Lycian League was one of the models used by the Founding Fathers in drafting the United States Constitution. 

A Modern Ruin 

While it’s difficult to throw a rock in any direction from Fethiye without hitting an ancient ruin or two, one of the stranger sites is the nearby ghost town of Kayakoy, occupied by a strong Greek community until The 1923 Population Exchange. This unprecedented event occurred as a result of the Greco-Turkish War, 1919-1922. The western Allies had promised the Greeks territory in mainland Turkey from the dismantled Ottoman Empire in exchange for their support during the First World War. This, of course, did not suit the plans of the Turkish revolutionaries, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who eventually founded the Turkish Republic. 

As Ataturk and his compatriots controlled the remnants of the Turkish Army, they were able to resist Greek attempts to claim the territory they’d been promised. Fueled by nationalist fervor and a healthy dose of ancient enmity, Ataturk’s forces were able to defeat the Greeks and drive them back across the Aegean. As part of the peace agreement, the Turks insisted on a population exchange in which two million citizens—1.5 million Christian Greeks living in Turkey and half a million Muslims living in Greece—were denaturalized from their homelands and relocated across the sea. The village of Kayakoy, once home to 2000 Greeks, has been preserved as a museum and named a UNESCO World Friendship and Peace Village. It serves as a somber reminder of this unsettled time. 

And despite those attempts to “purify” the local population, you’ll still hear a cacophony of many languages during your stay in Fethiye as it’s become a hot destination for travelers from all parts of the new known world … even your own home town. 

                                                                        Karyn L. Planett

Dardanelles, Turkey

Karyn Planett

The Path Between The Seas 

Sailing the Dardanelles is like slipping into last season’s jeans. Things do become tighter with time even, it seems, for that slim body of water known as the Dardanelles Strait separating European from Asian Turkey and the Aegean portion of the Mediterranean from the Sea of Marmara, hence the Black Sea. Grab a map, you’ll understand.           

Facts and Stats 

The strait is 38 miles long.

At its narrowest, it’s a mere 3/4-mile wide.

The average depth is only 180 feet.

Water flows from the Aegean to the Sea of Marmara as an undercurrent; the reverse flow travels along the surface.

The strait’s geography sealed its fate as a strategic choke point coveted by rulers since time began. 

Hero and Leander 

“Since I have seen this streight, I find nothing improbable in the adventure of Leander or very wonderful in the Bridge of Boats of Xerxes. ‘Tis so narrow, ‘tis not surprising a young Love should attempt to swim it or an Ambitious King try to pass his Army over it. But this ‘tis so subject to storms, ‘tis no wonder the Lover perish’d and the Bridge was broken.” 

So ‘tis’d Lady Mary Worley Montagu in her Letter to Abbe Conti, 31 July 1718, of two important events associated with the Dardanelles. In the first, a heroine named Hero is one of Aphrodite’s tempting priestesses. Her lover Leander is the smitten lad from Abydos on the wrong side of the Dardanelles’ tracks. These tragic figures saw their love triumph over all obstacles including this body of water. Hero would stand, lamp in hand and heart aflutter, awaiting her lover who’d swim the calm summer waters nightly to her inviting embrace. Then, one dark and stormy winter’s night, waves tossed Leander out to sea and winds darkened Hero’s lamp. Upon discovering her lover’s fate, Hero dashed her body onto the rocks and joined Leander in silent death. 

Xerxes, on the other hand, was the ambitious Persian king Lady Montagu alluded to who was bent on punishing the Eritreans, Naxians and Athenians for meddling in his father’s affairs during the Ionian Revolt. Xerxes constructed a bridge of boats to cross the Hellespont, as the Dardanelles Straight was also known. Clever lad, this Xerxes.

The Battlefields of Gallipoli 

“The water of the Hellespont is the most important channel of water in the world ... The most famous war of all time was fought, not for any human Helen, but to control that channel.” --John Masefield, 1916, Gallipoli. 

Truer words were never spoken, especially for the soldiers and families back home huddled around crackling radios awaiting news of their loved one’s fate. The infamous battle for Gallipoli played out along the shores of this “most important channel” you now sail past. Its story is written in the blood of frightened young men who stared their enemy in the eye and battled till the end. A very short synopsis follows. Your more in-depth study is truly warranted. 

The military campaign known as the “Gallipoli Campaign” saw its darkest days along this peninsula from April 25th, 1915 through January 9th the following year. This strait, as you know, is now and was then the strategic entrance to Istanbul (then Constantinople) ensuring the open sea route from the Mediterranean to Russia. Joint forces from France and the British Empire were assembled to invade and control Istanbul, hence the Ottoman Empire. 

As WWI raged along on many fronts, this giant assembly of British, Australian, Indian, French, Gurkha, Senegalese, Newfoundlander and New Zealander troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in an attempt to secure the strait. A few details are lost in the fog of war but some points remain unchallenged. The battles were bloody, the casualties staggering, and the mission lost. 

Turkish soldiers, many led by their future statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, pinned the Allied forces down on the sandy beaches. Other Turks mined this narrow waterway and succeeded in sinking several Allied vessels. 

In the ten months of battles, records report an excess of 200,000 casualties. At V Beach, only 21 of the first 200 attempting to come ashore made it to the beach. Combatants here suffered a 70% casualty rate. Fewer than a dozen “Dubliners” out of 1,012 lived through the entire campaign unharmed. At nearby W Beach, 600 were killed or wounded of the 1,000 who came ashore. 

Land was taken and given back through battle after bloody battle. The failure to take Sari Bair Heights August 29th, 1915 signaled the beginning of the end to this brutal bloodbath. British Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener visited the peninsula and sounded the retreat. Torrential rains and early snow killed many who shivered miserably awaiting evacuation, having survived combat only to succumb to the cold. On January 9th, 1916, the last of the troops set sail for home. 

Australia and New Zealand commemorate their formation of the ANZAC alliance every April 25th, their most solemn event of the year. The Turkish people call this campaign the “Battle of Canakkale” and celebrate it as part of their nation’s heroic struggle led by their revered Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Their brave young men also made the ultimate sacrifice when their country called.

On the cliffs above you sprawls the 81,543-acre Gallipoli Historical National Park, a respectful tribute to those who served here. In a dry, faceless evaluation, the results are given as a “decisive Ottoman victory” with a 59% casualty rate of 220,000 men for the Allies and a 60% casualty rate of 300,000 men for the Ottoman Empire along with Germany and Austria-Hungary. 

Stand silently as you sail past. Listen for the echo of a silent prayer, a muffled pleading to live through the night, or the anguished rasp of a soldier’s last breath. Listen, listen, ....listen. 

                                                                        Karyn L. Planett

Cannakkale, Turkey

Karyn Planett

A Chapter In Turkish History

Several chapters, really. Yet you’ve probably journeyed to this sacred place, for one or two of them – Troy or Gallipoli. Just know that the kind citizens of Cannakkale understand why you’re here. Filled with curiosity, perhaps some trepidation, you want to walk in the path of those who came before you and shed blood for their beliefs. 

Why was the heavy hand of history played out here as it was? Because, geographically, Cannakkale commands the Dardanelles Strait where it connects the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean. Since the dawn of time, nations have wanted to control this important piece of the geographic puzzle for it held the key to wealth and power. 

Perhaps you already know the events that played out on this rugged soil as the centuries came and went. 

Trojan Horse, Or A One-Trick Pony? 

Take the Trojan War, for example. In a nutshell, these events are intertwined in the storytelling by the ancient Greeks and such laudable poets and authors as Homer and Virgil. But layers of archaeological discoveries at the place known to us as Troy, (to the Greeks as Ilion, and to the Turks as Truva) span a period from 3000 B.C. to 400 A.D. Some say it is the very spot that was destroyed in 1180 B.C. then rediscovered and unearthed in the late 1800s. It’s all in Homer’s Iliad, which is probably in your rumpus room library somewhere. But, you remember the legend of King Priam and the Achaeans (Greeks). Look on the top shelf, perhaps, way in the back. Well, the whole mess between the Greeks and the Trojans began more or less over a snubbing at a wedding. Then a beauty pageant, some nasty fighting, high-stakes ransom, behind the scenes negotiations, more unpleasantries, and finally the horse. Sounds like a Brittany Spears newsflash (except for the horse part). 

Following an important battle, Greek soldiers including Odysseus hid inside the Trojan horse. A “fake” disgruntled Greek named Sinon tricked the Trojans into believing the horse was a rather large good luck charm so they dragged it into Troy to show it off as the centerpiece of their celebration (like an Academy Award of sorts). Bingo, ruse intact, out jumped the soldiers easily overcoming the Trojan revelers (who thought they’d already won the war). Or so the saga goes because stories vary, versions favor the storyteller, and the myth and mystery of war are often imprecise. Today, Troy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site worthy of your inspection.             

More Blood Shed, This Time in Gallipoli 

World War I raged. And in the 1915-1916 Battle of Gallipoli, Allied forces from Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC), Britain, France, India, and Newfoundland fought against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire as well as some Germans. Many of these young men had never seen the ugly face of war before. Thousands of ANZAC troops had mustered on their country’s beaches then sailed thousands of miles to be mowed down as they scrambled ashore in rugged terrain away from their intended landing site, carried along on a treacherous current. They faced dedicated Turkish troops under the able leadership of their nation’s future leader, Atatürk. In one of those amazing “what-ifs” of history, he was actually shot during the battle but the bullet struck his pocket watch, preventing it from penetrating his heart.   

Many survived the initial landing only to perish later in the trenches from wounds or disease. But there was a curious respect between the two adversaries. Men traded cigarettes for food by tossing parcels to each other across no man’s land. Occasionally, a truce was called so each side could bury its dead. Then, after eight hellish months, the bugle sounded, the battle ended, the bloody chapter drew to a close. 

'Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well''.

--Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, ANZAC Cove 

Atatürk spoke of Gallipoli with these powerful words though the Turkish people call it Gelibolu. The mothers, whose sons were felled in battle here, call it hell yet a hallowed ground. 

Today, this is a peaceful place with dozens of cemeteries and memorials for the Allied dead, the same for the Turkish soldiers. Some of the dead were simply buried as and where they fell. The death toll was huge: more than 21,000 British; over 8,000 Australians; 10,000 French; nearly 2500 New Zealanders; 1350 Indians and 49 lads from Newfoundland. The Turks themselves lost approximately 80,000 of their own (some put the numbers between 60,000 and 250,000)*. At Cape Hellas, there is a soaring memorial. Pause and reflect on the following words: 

“Stop, O passerby. This earth you tread unawares is where an age was lost. Bow and listen, for this quiet place is where the heart of a nation throbs.”

Nearly 100 years have come and gone since some 500,000 soldiers of many nations were killed or wounded here. These brave soldiers, one and all, made the supreme sacrifice for family and nation. Lest they be forgotten. 

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Bandar Abbas, Iran

Karyn Planett

Journeys often present new rewards, new horizons. With that comes a need for knowledge. As this is Crystal Cruises’ maiden call to Iran, a capsule history of this magnificent country might help orient us to the context of Iran today. And what a history it is. Iran’s location, at the crossroads of the world’s earliest civilizations, has rewarded it with as rich a cultural past as any country on earth. In fact, Iran bears witness to urban settlements dating back 6,000 years. Learning its history is a daunting task and worthy of a closer look than this thumbnail sketch provides. 

Iran and Persia 

“Iran” is derived from the word Aryanam meaning “land of the Aryans” in the language brought to the region by Aryan tribes from Russia and Ukraine in the 10th century. Prior to that event the Greeks had referred to this area, defined then by the empire of Cyrus The Great, as “Perses.” To the Latins, the next to weigh in on the topic, the land ultimately became known as “Persia.” 

In the western world, “Persia” was the official diplomatic name of the empire although inside the country it was always referred to as “Iran.” In 1935, Reza Shah Palavi, an admirer of Hitler’s Germany, asked western diplomats to begin using “Iran” because the Nazis revived interest in the Aryan races, which had flourished in ancient Persia. This decision was at least partially responsible for Allied pressure to replace the Shah and his ideas with his west-leaning son in 1941. 

Winston Churchill successfully requested that “Persia” be used as the official designation during World War II to avoid confusion with Iraq, curiously. Then finally, in 1949, Mohammad Reza Shah Palavi declared that the two terms could be used interchangeably, and that was that. Since then, “Iran” is most often used in a modern political context, while the term “Persia” lives on in the historical context. 

Iran and Islam         

The gradual Islamization of Persia began in the 8th century when Arab Muslims from Iraq started to exercise their domination over the territories of Iran. During a succession of both Arab and Persian rulers, more and more of the population converted to Islam, and by the close of the 11th century, it’s claimed that 100% of the population was Muslim.            

The Safavid dynasty established Shi’a Islam as the official religion in 1501, and the country was ruled as a monarchy until it became an Islamic Republic following the fall of the Shah in 1979. During the reign of the Reza Shahs, the government acted aggressively in its attempt to preserve a secular state, much like today’s Turkish Republic. However, in pressing for cultural changes like the requirement to wear western dress and the mixing of the sexes, they ran afoul of the still powerful clergy. The Shah went into exile and the republic was taken over by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini (not to be confused with the current Supreme Leader Ali Khameni, or the former president Mohammad Khatami).

Iran and The West 

Being a non-secular state as well as an oil-rich state, and having a rich cultural history that reinforces a strong sense of nationalism, plus having been exploited and demeaned by a variety of (not just western) invaders, the leadership of Iran feels just the slightest bit prickly when dealing with the world community. As a western traveler, though, you’re unlikely to experience any of the tension that marks Iran’s relations on an international political level. In fact, it’s in Iran’s interest to be seen as something other than a rogue state. The man in the street will probably act as graciously as any other host in the many countries you visit. 

Time To See The Sights 

Your encounter with this vibrant cultural history begins in Bandar Abbas. Sitting astride the Strait of Hormuz, it’s currently the home base of the Iranian Navy and in that narrow body of water is a place where the military forces of Iran and the west rub together. 

The city has been, from ancient times, a key trading post linking the Arab world with the riches of the Mediterranean, Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Far East. Much of that history has been preserved on the nearby offshore island of Qeshm. Thought by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden, Qeshm has become a major stop on the ecotourism circuit. The Hara marine forests are said to host 1.5% of the world’s entire bird population in the course of a year. The island also features a number of dramatic canyons and valleys for resolute trekkers, the ruins of an ancient Portuguese fort, as well as several historic mosques and other important Islamic sites. 

If you venture inland to the ancient capital city of Persepolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or Ishfahar, a showplace of Islamic art and architecture, you’ll be immersed in a purer version of the culture that many nationals believe sets Iran apart from some of its Arab neighbors, and which Iranians proudly feel puts them on an equal footing with any of the world’s leading nations. At the end of the day, you’re likely to agree.

                                                                                       Karyn L. Planett

Al Fujairah, UAE

Karyn Planett

Tribal Roots Of The UAE

United Arab Emirates. Each word provides a clue to why this postage-stamp corner of the world presents such an oversized profile on the international stage. But we’d like to know what makes them so different from other Arab states? How did they manage to unite in a culture that reveres clan individuality? And what exactly is an emirate anyway?


Bedouin is the plural form of the word bedu, which translates roughly to “desert wanderer.” That’s a pretty apt description of the provenance and purpose of the original nomadic families. Born in the pre-Islamic Arabian Desert, the Bedouin eventually spread to the Sahara, the Najd, the Negev, the Sinai and beyond. From the Atlantic Ocean east to the Levant, they grew their herds, established their turf, then built families into clans and clans into tribes.

Clans control wells and therefore the surrounding land for grazing. Their families are related through complex alliances controlled by intermarriage, even between cousins. Clans making up a tribe can trace a common lineage back for several generations. This blood relationship is the element that binds together key components of the Bedouin culture.

Bedouin Culture

Loyalty, obedience, generosity, hospitality, honor, cunning, and revenge are the tenets of Bedouin society and behavior. To violate this code is to damage the strength of the clan and bring dishonor to the family. Of these, the highest virtue is hospitality. Born of necessity and driven by the harsh life of the desert, any stranger--friend or foe--can appear at a tent and expect three days food, shelter, as well as safe passage.

Hospitality must be offered not just willingly, but generously. Beginning with coffee, which is a Bedouin ritual and the source of great pride, the visitor is served as often as he will drink. This is followed by as sumptuous a meal as the family can provide, even if it means emptying their own shelves and borrowing from neighbors. As a final act of generosity, clothes of the deceased are left atop the grave for the benefit of a needy traveler.

Each family group has a highly developed sense of honor and loyalty, including the morals of family members—rules of life that are defended vigorously, if necessary.

Bedouin Life

Like virtually all nomads, Bedouin families live in tents that have been adapted to their climate and to the materials most readily found in their universe. The Bedouin tent is long and low and usually black. It’s constructed of goat and camel hair, woven by the women of the family. The hair swells in the rain making the tent watertight. Its sides are rolled up to allow breezes in during the heat of the day. This tent can be put up or taken down (even by the women) in approximately one hour.

The average family tent is divided into two sections. The men’s section is for receiving guests. The rest of the family lives, sleeps and cooks in the women’s section. For Bedouin higher on the socio-economic scale, tents can become considerably more elaborate with even a generator, TV or other appliances. There could also be a vehicle parked outside.

Bedouin Tribes

Every Arab nation in the Middle East has Bedouin tribes. In some countries, modernization has relegated them to second-class citizenship although, oddly, Bedouin virtues are often held up as a model of pure Islamic culture. Only in the areas where Bedouin were the original inhabitants have they maintained a powerful degree of importance, even leadership.

In Arabia and the Gulf States there are more than 100 tribes, a few numbering as many as 100,000 members. Descendents of these great tribes are the rulers of the modern kingdoms they’ve inherited. The ruling sheikhs of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and other Gulf States can trace their lineage back to the great tribes of the ancient days. But, without the oil that has created their enormous wealth, some Bedouin might still be living a nomadic lifestyle instead of enjoying the comfort of high-rise condos even palatial estates.

The oil discoveries that made it all possible could easily have consigned these former desert dwellers to lives of exploitation and subjugation by the dominant world powers that sought to control their resources. But in 1971, one enlightened leader named Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was able to convince the Emirs of seven neighboring tribal states to form the United Arab Emirates. It was the first and possibly last time Bedouin tribes had been formed into a large-scale political organization.

The new leaders of these powerful city-states are still tribal in their social structures though they are also university educated, socially liberal, economically conservative, fans of capitalism, friends of the West, and full members of the world’s citizenry. Without them and their visionary leadership, this whole region might have collapsed into chaos long ago.

Karyn L. Planett

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Karyn Planett

The Emirates’ Seat of Culture 

Curiously, the United Arab Emirates’ history is essentially a modern one when you consider where you are. In 1853 the British, in their inimitable way, drew some lines in the shifting sands fashioning something called the “Trucial States”. Until then the Emirates, along with neighboring Bahrain and Qatar, had existed as a collection of leftover territories between Oman and Saudi Arabia known colorfully as the “Pirate Coast”. 

Having created some semblance of order, at least on the map, for the collective sheikdoms had no real cooperative relationship, the British administered disputes between the states for the next century or so. Some say their influence is felt throughout the region even today. 

Black Gold 

Oil, “discovered” in 1958, literally became the lubricant that greased the skids for the states to take charge of their own destiny. Abu Dhabi and Dubai formed a union, wrote a constitution, and invited the rulers of the other five emirates to join them, and when the Trucial Treaty expired on December 1, 1971, the new oil kingdom was born. Since then it’s been a story of developing, each in its own way, the petro-wealth buried beneath their dunes. 

While much of the developed world regarded the newly created UAE as a collection of third world tribes, they were instead a force to be reckoned with guided by modern, educated leaders. Each articulated a separate vision for his emirate then set about creating that reality with knowledge of advanced economic, political, and social planning gleaned from the world’s leading universities. While Dubai envisioned becoming the Duty Free Zone of the Middle East (a vision that will be brought dramatically to life when you visit Dubai in the next few days), Abu Dhabi decided to become the cultural hub. 

Culture and Architecture

Abu Dhabi is the product of modern city planning with wide boulevards, high-density commercial and residential towers, as well as manicured parks and gardens scattered about. Unfortunately, the city was planned for 600,000 inhabitants and there are currently 900,000 and counting. The result, therefore, is a bit of vehicular and pedestrian chaos tainting the planners’ dreams. Even so, a drive along the Corniche from the port to the Emirates Palace Hotel will still leave a very positive impression of this capital city. 

Did you know that Abu Dhabi is the wealthiest of all the Emirates? Quite surprising, really, when you get a glimpse of Dubai. The hypothetical net worth of each citizen is $17 million*. A little oil does go a long way. The GDP per capita is behind that of only Luxembourg and Norway. In fact, Abu Dhabi’s Sovereign Fund is the second largest investor in the world. The state-owned Abu Dhabi Investment Authority controls a staggering $875 billion in assets from excess oil revenues and manages the country’s $500 billion oil reserves. The fund recently invested $7.5 billion in Citigroup, making it the largest shareholder in the world’s largest bank.

Sights And Sounds 

Abu Dhabi rings with a cacophony of foreign tongues. Eighty per cent of the population is expatriate workers from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, as well as white-collar expats from the west. This tower of babble includes Tagalog, Tigrinya, Amharic, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, and Malayalam along with English, the European languages, and Arabic, of course. Fortunately, English is the common language in this pot of linguistic stew. 

While it’s never easy to dream of how the super-rich leaders of oil-producing states must live, a visit to the lavish Emirates Palace Hotel will give you just a taste. A cup of spiced tea under the marble dome, the resident harpist nearby, completes the tableau. The nearby Marina Mall is as contemporary as any in the west while the Grand Mosque is among the most sumptuous in the Arab world and definitely worth a visit even though it’s still under construction. 

For a glimpse of something closer to reality, a quick walk or drive through the fishing port offers some less luxurious but richly textured photo opportunities. The overland drive to Al Ain lets you experience the environment this glittering metropolis was carved from only a few decades ago. The camel market and oasis in Al Ain will carry you even further back in time. 

The future, though, shines for Abu Dhabi’s entitled citizens. They’ll study at a locally funded campus of New York University in 2010 as well as view exhibits at the latest Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in 2012. And even if their wells ran dry or gas went back to $1.25 a gallon (not!), their lifestyle would live on. Conservative investments and wise planning have left these people less and less dependent on oil reserves. They have invested heavily in worldwide assets and have held internal growth to a measured pace — something you’ll find in wild contrast to their cousins in Dubai. 

                                                                                    Karyn L. Planett

Istanbul, Turkey

Karyn Planett

Mosques and Minarets on the Sea of Marmara

As Crystal Harmony edges toward one of the world's most mystical cities, you might well be reminded of a passage on Istanbul written by Sacheverell Sitwell in his Arabesque and Honeycomb.   "Our ship makes a sweep towards it, and in that moment we see before and in front of us the opening of the Golden Horn, and one after another all the Imperial Mosques of Istanbul standing against and upon the skyline....It is the most sensational revelation: one after another of these great domes as in a panorama, they stand there on the sky-line like huge kettle-drums with something menacing and martial in their air, and in that moment it is more of a capital than any other city, more than London, or than Rome, or Paris.  It must be the most wonderful site for a great capital there has ever been."

The Rich Tapestry of History

Volumes have been written about Istanbul's fascinating and exotic past.  Throughout the centuries many rulers have marched  across this strategic soil.  Their blades have sliced their actions indelibly into the history books.  Their presence has been etched into the monuments that decorate the streets.  Their myths still linger long after they have gone.

Early Greeks, who journeyed here in 658 B.C. from the Peloponnesus peninsula in southern Greece, were credited with the actual founding of the city of what was then Byzantium.  They utilized this area as a supply point for their vessels plying between the Black Sea and their colonies.  The Persians later gained control of the region, but ultimately lost this control, in 334 B.C., to Alexander the Great.

In time an important treaty was signed between Byzantium and the rulers in Rome.  And with this treaty, the area became part of the vast and powerful Roman Empire.  Constantine the Great, one of Rome's most successful leaders, felt the empire needed to be carved up into smaller, more manageable districts.  Thus, with four regions under his control, he declared Byzantium as the capital.

The Byzantine emperor Justinean ruled from 527-565 A.D. and under his rule, the city prospered.  He ordered the building of St. Sophia, which then sparked the construction of many other mosques in the same design.

Mehmet II, also known as "Faith the Conqueror", took the city in 1453.  His troops rebuilt the city and bestowed upon it the name "Istanbul."  The Topkapi Palace, built in 1468, was actually Mehmet's summer residence.

Enter Suleyman I, "The Magnificent", who was in power from 1520 to 1566.  Under his reign the city again flourished as this progressive-minded ruler led the entire Ottoman Empire to new heights in architecture, art, law, and literature.  He was also responsible for the construction of the magnificent Suleymaniye mosque, reputed to be one of Islam's most notable.

This century saw the rise of Mustafa Kemal.  He is best known as Ataturk which translates to mean "Father of the Turks."  He was known as the founder of modern Turkey and became the first president.  Through his efforts, the country was literally catapulted into the 20th century.  He "westernized" Turkey and introduced the Latin alphabet.  Industries were modernized.  Women were fully emancipated.  Islam was "disestablished", although it remains the dominant religion to this day.

Today, Turkey enjoys her independence and continues to march toward prosperity.

A Long List of Sights

If you have only enough time to visit Istanbul's "Big Three" then do so.  But with several days to explore you could wander through rich museums, stroll the Galata Bridge, sip Turkish coffee in a covered bazaar, and enjoy a massage and Turkish bath.  If not, just do the "Big Three."

The Topkapi Palace, which overlooks the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, was the summer residence of the Ottoman sultans and  their harems from the 15th to the mid-19th centuries.  At one time it was the home of some 5,000 residents.  Today, it is one of the world's richest museums with fabulous displays of porcelains, carpets, and miniatures.  Magnificent jewels are found in the popular Treasury, which can be quite crowded.  It is said that two uncut emeralds, each weighing about 8 pounds, once hung from the ceiling here.

Sancta Sophia, also known as the Basilica of St. Sophia, is one of the world's most famous religious structures.  Built by Emperor Justinian in 537 A.D., its former riches of gold and silver sadly have vanished at the hands of the Crusaders.  The Turks converted this basilica into a mosque and altered the architecture with the addition of four large minarets.

The Blue Mosque, or the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, faces St. Sophia.  Its peculiar name comes from the magnificent interior decoration of more than 20,000 blue Iznik tiles.  However, the most distinctive feature of this mosque is its six minarets.

Istanbul is so unique for she bridges two continents, Europe and Asia, where the shores of the Bosphorus greet the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn.  It is truly where the East rubs shoulders with the West.

Jerusalem, Israel

Karyn Planett

The City of Gold

To quote Robert Byron from his 1937 work, The Road to Oxiana, "The city (of Jerusalem) stands in the mountains, a scape of domes and towers enclosed by crenellated walls and perched on a table of rock above a deep valley. As far as the distant hills of Moab the contours of the country resemble those of a physical map, sweeping up the slopes in regular, stratified curves, and casting grand shadows in the sudden valleys. Earth and rock reflect the lights of a fire-opal."

Kings And Rulers

Looking back into the dog-eared pages of history we learn that King Melchizedek was the first recorded ruler of Jerusalem. At that time, 1850 B.C., the city was known as "Urusalim" or "Salem." In time King David, king of the ancient Hebrews, overran the city and declared it a Holy City. It was his son Solomon who reigned peacefully and created many foreign alliances, developed trade and built the first Hebrew temple in Jerusalem at Mount Moriah.

This temple was destroyed by marauding Babylonian forces led by King Nebuchadnezzar. He ravaged the city and banished her citizens to wander in exile. In time, a second temple was constructed. Judas Maccabaeus and a band of Jews rose up against the then-ruling Seleucids and once again brought the Jewish faith back to Jerusalem.

The Romans were a major presence in Jerusalem under the rule of Herod the Great who had befriended Marc Antony who bestowed upon Herod the title of King of Judaea. Herod ruled the Jews with a heavy and bloody hand. He ordered the massacre of many innocents during the time Christ was born.

The Legacy Of Masada

Following Jesus' crucifixion Titus' forces devastated the city of Jerusalem and punished Jewish Zealots. Some Jews managed to escape death but were driven from their city. One thousand of them holed up in Masada, Herod the Great's mountain top fortress in the Judaean Desert near the Dead Sea. For three long and painful years, Roman soldiers camped in the fields surrounding the base of the fortress. Slaves were brought in to construct a giant assault ramp to the mountain top. When the Zealots, led by Elazar Ben Yair, realized they faced starvation or conquest, they chose suicide rather than surrender. Only two women and five children of the original 1,000 Zealots survived. The others died at their own hands, suffering death over defeat.

The Not So Distant Past

The Moslems came to Jerusalem and constructed the Dome of the Rock in 691. The Crusaders and the Mamelukes followed. Then the Ottoman Turks, led by Suleiman the Magnificent, whose architects and artisans brought Jerusalem back to its former glory.

In the year 1917 the British supported the idea of a homeland for the Jews. Having wrestled control of Jerusalem from the Turks, the British prepared the famous Balfour Declaration that proposed a Jewish national state in Palestine. Thirty years later the United National declared two Palestines, one Arabic and one Jewish. The city of Jerusalem owed its allegiance to neither faction, for the U.N. proclaimed Jerusalem an international city.

With World War II a closed chapter in the history books, the British withdrew their forces from Israel and left behind Chaim Weizmann as the country's first president. The year, 1948.

Recent history illustrates the difficulties those of differing faiths and ancestry faced by who live side-by-side in a country as small as Israel. However in 1993, a new framework for a Peace Agreement was signed by Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. The world looks cautiously toward Israel with hopeful eyes and a prayer for peace.

Islam, the Faith

Karyn Planett

And The Prophet Mohammed*

Michener wrote long ago about this “misunderstood” religion.  Westerners were usually unfamiliar with Islam for it was a faith not widely practiced in our hometowns and cities some 50 years ago when this talented author made his observations.  Islam was rarely even taught in the schools or universities.  But, the same could have been said about Hinduism, even Buddhism, as well as a host of other beliefs.

World travelers today can truly take in the uniqueness of cultures and countries if they understand the root of many of the traditions and mores they experience during their journey.  A basic knowledge of the tenets of Islam will enrich your journey while exploring this part of the world.  And we should not fail to recognize that recent events have reinforced the need for people of all faiths and nations to gain respect for and knowledge of the beliefs of others.

Prophet Mohammed

In the western Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, 570 A.D., Mohammed was born into a Quraysh (also spelled Kuraish) family, then the most influential tribe in the region.  Mohammed was orphaned by the age of seven and lived with relatives, tending their sheep, and traveling with them by caravan north across the vast deserts to Syria.  In his mid-twenties, he married the affluent widow Chadjilla (also spelled Khadija) much his senior, who bore him four girls who survived and two sons who did not.

At that time, citizens of Mecca were passionate followers of what has been called the “pagan Arab spiritual life.”  Equally fervent were those who sought enlightenment through the Hanyfs or people who respected the words of Abraham, as well as other theologies including Christianity, Judaism, and Persian dogma.

The Voice of God

At the age of 40, in 610 A.D., Mohammed regularly retreated to the cool, dark recesses of a small cave.  While lost in the quiet of deep meditation, he experienced a great revelation and heard what he later believed to be the voice of God coming to him through the archangel Gabriel.  Over time, having experienced many such revelations, Mohammed became convinced that he had been chosen by God to be the sole Arab prophet of true religion, for others before him had failed God in this task.

Mohammed feared ridicule if he shared his visions with others.  Therefore, he remained silent for three long years despite his wife’s urgings to come forth with this message.  When Mohammed did speak out, few embraced his preaching for his words enraged those pagans whose prosperity was deeply entrenched in Mecca at that time.

Fearing for His Life

So infuriated were Mohammed’s critics that the Prophet feared for his life, and felt it was necessary to flee from Mecca on June 15, 622 A.D.  This date is pivotal in the Moslem world for it represents Mohammed’s flight to freedom… his escape to Yathrib some 200 miles north.  Once there, he was free to preach the word of God.  Therefore, this escape to safety, or hijrah, signifies the true beginning of Islam as well as the start of the Muslim calendar.

The citizens of Yathrib enthusiastically embraced Mohammed and renamed their city Medinat An-Nabi, the City of the Prophet.  Today, it is known as Medina.

Mohammed preached in and lived out his life in Medina, Islam’s second holiest city after Mecca (which his 10,000 soldiers conquered in 630 A.D.).  At that time, Mohammed marched into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, unceremoniously stripped it of all pagan idols, and decreed it a holy site.

At Mohammed’s time of death in Medina in 630 A.D., his influence was felt throughout Arabia.  Yet, despite these strong inroads, Mohammed was unsuccessful in converting large numbers of Jews and Christians as he had hoped.

Understanding the Five Pillars of Faith

The word “Allah” is Arabic for “God.”  And Allah’s words, as recited to Mohammed, are recorded in Islam’s holy book, The Koran (or Qu’ran).  Spelled out in The Koran are the Five Pillars of Islam, which follow.

Shahadah is the acceptance of the Islamic faith and its tenet that “there is no God but God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God.”

Salat is the commitment to pray five times daily.  Before prayers, Muslims must cleanse themselves in a ritualistic purification.  Sand is to be used if water is unavailable.  While praying, the faithful turn toward Mecca (identified by the mosque’s mihrab), assume the three postures of prayer, which indicate complete submission to God, and recite the Fatina, which praises God.  Prayers are led by the imam, or religious leader.

Zakat is the giving of alms to those in need.

Sawm (also sanm) is the ritualistic fasting required of all Muslims including the complete abstinence of all “intake” from sunup to sundown during the holy month of Ramadan.

The hajj (or hadj) is the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at an exact date stated by The Koran.  It is the finest hour in a Muslim’s life.  During this prescribed time, millions of hajji travel to Mecca from around the world to walk seven times around the holy Kaaba Stone (“Abraham’s Altar”) before kissing this black monolith.  Believers who are too poor to make this journey to Mecca may fulfill this obligation by substituting a holy mosque closer to home.

Islam Today

The Prophet Mohammed’s* inspiring words pierce the city’s din five times each day.  They echo across the broad reaches of the world from one nation to another, including a huge expanse of Asia and Africa (with heavy concentration in Northern Africa), in the Middle East and Indonesia, throughout Pakistan and Malaysia, even Europe and America.  When muezzins call believers to prayer from atop the mosques’ slender minarets these faithful dutifully gather to whisper the teachings of their beloved Prophet.  May our beliefs share a commonality, and our differences be respected.