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Bodrum

Bodrum, Turkey

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The Aegean has to be the bluest sea in the world. – so it’s odd that many people get a little confused about actually what, or where it is. The ‘where’ part is easy: it’s the stretch of the Mediterranean that reaches northwards between Greece and Turkey, until it narrows to the bottleneck of the Hellespont, passes Istanbul, and opens out again to become the Black Sea.

The Aegean itself is full of sun-kissed islands which are pretty evenly distributed between Greece and Turkey - the two major countries in the area and historic enemies since 1453 when the Turks conquered the Greek city of Constantinople and turned it into Istanbul. The new name and the new possessors remain unchanged to this day. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Turks, working their way up to the great Greek city, slowly conquered most of Anatolia, the lump of land between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean that forms most of modern-day Turkey. As the captured town after town they renamed them in their own language.

This is what happened to the ancient town of Halicarnassus. After being overrun by the Turks it became, and remains, Bodrum. These days it’s a very popular seaside resort and stop-over for cruise lines.

You’ll probably get a full day in Bodrum as part of an Aegean cruise. Typical itineraries in this part of the world tend to focus on Kos and the Ionian islands, neglecting the Turkish mainland except for the odd visit to hotspots like Bodrum and occasional trips ashore to visit ancient ruins. That’s a shame, as there are very many interesting towns and villages along this stretch of coastline, and Bodrum is a fine example of their charms.

For a start, it’s not as chaotic as you might expect. Although a popular seaside resort with the locals, the town has not been overrun with tourist tat – the very large number of middle-class Istanbul residents who have weekend homes here help to maintain a certain degree of decorum. But apart from that, the atmosphere of this place – ancient as it is – seems quietly to discourage too much hedonism, as if the drunken excesses of islands like Ibiza would seem out of place and inappropriate here. That’s not to say Bodrum’s stuffy – it’s anything but – it’s just a fine example of what a first class place a Mediterranean seaside resort can be if it puts its mind to it.

The town is very rich in plants and trees. There’s a wonderfully relaxing time to be had strolling around some of the tangerine groves that surround the town, working their way right down to the water’s edge. If you enjoy a walk, you should consider taking the brief hike up the coastal hillside on to which the old town is built to enjoy the panorama.

Another worthwhile excursion is a wander around the front of the old harbor. These days pleasure yachts and sail boats sit in the berths where triremes and galleys used to dock and its fun on a warm afternoon to walk along the quayside and admire the huge variety of vessels that now line the ancient wharves. The harbor is dominated by the Castle of St. Peter, which sticks out into the sea on a great promontory, its position chosen as a fine place of defense against marauders.

For years the castle was a possession of the Knights of St. John – otherwise known as the Knights Hospitaller – an order of warrior monks. They built the castle on the land they got their hands on during the crusades, when armies from Western Europe pretty much helped themselves to land and property all over Asia Minor.

Today the castle is an interesting exhibit in itself, and, like so many crusader castles, seems oddly out of place where it is: it’s built in a style common in Western Europe, but which seems to stick out a mile when transferred to Asian surroundings. The huge pile stands on a neck of land that used to be an island, lying a couple of hundred yards off shore. However, years of silting up have bridged the divide. Today, the castle is a great place to explore, and has been extensively renovated to provide a wonderful museum experience. When you’ve had enough of exploring the defences and the rich coats of arms that decorate the interior, you can explore the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. A lot of ancient ships sank around here over the years, some of them carrying rich and spectacular cargoes. Everything that has been – and is being – salvaged is restored and displayed in the Museum.

Bodrum, really, merits more than the single day that most cruise itineraries afford it. This is a town with a rich history and a beautiful setting that you’ll just love to explore.

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