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House of Mary

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Blue Mosque Dome

The government probably would be just as happy if you didn’t go to Turkey this year what with the terrorist attacks in Istanbul and other parts of that country.

The U.S. State Department says that U.S. citizens should “carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time … due to the persistent threat of terrorism.” The British government has issued similar warnings.

Major cruise lines have canceled port visits in that country. As a result, travelers are being denied — at least for the present — an opportunity to see some of the world’s most historic sites.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that the state of emergency which has been in effect in Turkey since last year’s unsuccessful coup will continue until the country achieved “welfare and peace.” The New York Times says the edict gives Erdogan “an almost untrammeled grip on power.”

When 2017 schedules were posted for the ports of Istanbul and Kusadasi, which serves Ephesus, most cruise lines listed stops at one or both for this summer and fall.

Things changed swiftly. The year began with a horrific terrorist attack on one of Istanbul’s most popular nightclubs. ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre killing at least 39 people and injuring dozens more. It was followed days later by a car bombing outside the main courthouse in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city.

John Madden of TravelWorld said all major cruise lines have canceled Turkish visits for the 2017 season. Passengers instead are going ashore on the Greek islands, Rhodes, Montenegro or even Sarande, Albania.

Until the troubles began, Turkey, with more than 40 million annual visitors, ranked among the top 10 most visited countries in the world.

We were in Turkey in the fall of 2011 as part of a Good Times Eastern Mediterranean cruise. There were two shore excursions, one to Istanbul the other to Ephesus. Our group enjoyed both very much.

Turmoil is nothing new to Istanbul. It has been associated with major events in political history for 20 centuries including being sacked by Crusaders in 1204.

In recent years Sultanahmet Square, in the heart of the Old Istanbul district, has been the site of two terrorist attacks. The latest — on Jan. 12, 2016 — claimed the lives of 13 and injured another 14, all foreign tourists. Those two events, plus a number of similar incidents, caused cruise lines to cancel Turkish visits half way through the 2016 season and, following the nightclub attack, for all of this year.

Sultanahmet Square is near some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including sixth-century Hagia Sophia, transformed into a mosque under the Ottomans; the famous multi-domed Blue Mosque; the lavish Topkapi Palace, imperial residence of the Ottoman sultans, and the Grand Bazzar, the world’s most visited tourist attraction.

We had about 10 hours in the city and had to maintain a frenzied pace to see them all. Then it was on to Ephesus on Turkey’s west coast, one of the largest open air museums in the world.

This ancient Greek city, the second largest in size and importance during the Roman period, also is no stranger to turmoil.

Probably the most noteworthy incident was the riot of the silversmiths in the spring of 55 A.D. toward the end of the Apostle Paul’s lengthy visit. Luke, writing in the Acts of the Apostles, called it “no little disturbance.”

The silversmiths made miniature models of the Greek goddess Artemis and her nearby temple, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Paul, preaching in the local synagogue, persuaded many that “gods made with hands are not gods.”

A silversmith named Demetrius convinced a crowd of workmen that because of Paul’s teaching their livelihood was in danger and Ephesus became filled with confusion. The throng rushed into the city’s large theater, dragging with them two of Paul’s traveling companions. The haranguing continued for hours.

Paul wanted to address the crowd, but his disciples and city officials would not allow him to go. Finally, the city clerk restored order and advised the protestors to take the matter up in court if they had an accusation against Paul or the Christians.

The huge theater that was the scene of the silversmith riot is one of the major landmarks still standing. It is a dramatic and impressive sight. Members of the Good Times group walked across the stage and many took the opportunity to sit in the stone seats.

Nearby is the restored façade of the Library of Celsus, one of the largest libraries of the ancient world. And just beyond is the Persecution Gate which leads to the grave of St. John Evangelist and the ruins of the basilica erected in his honor in the sixth century.

On a hilltop overlooking the city is another landmark with religious significance, the House of Mary. Many believe that after the crucifixion John took Mary to Ephesus to avoid the persecutions of Christians in Jerusalem and built the house in which she spent the remainder of her life.

There were other stops on the cruise including Rome, Athens and Crete but the ones in Turkey are those we remember most. Hopefully, the world situation will return to normal and the cruise ships will again to call at Istanbul and Ephesus.