When we received the invitation from Turkish Airlines and Turkey Tourism, we wondered why we would fly 11 long hours to run the Istanbul Marathon. For the same amount of flying hours, we have endless options of marathon events lining up for us to choose, from those closer to home to one of the 6 majors.
That again, we asked. Are we just interested to run the marathon or experience the journey? We are neither podium runners nor the last few waiting for sweepers to pick us up. The answer became clearer and our heart started pumping faster with excitement. Let’s not just run the marathon. Let’s savor the journey, learn the culture, interact with the people, taste the food and appreciate the history. Turkey! Here we come……
Sitting at the crossroad between Asia and Europe, Turkey bridges Western Asia with Eastern Europe. Due to its geographical location, Turkey is rich with breathtaking natural beauty, unique history, and archaeological sites. Neighboring Azerbaijan and Iran on the east, Iraq and Syria on the southeast, Georgia and Armenia on the northeast, and Greece and Bulgaria on the northwest, the rectangular-shaped country is also encircled by the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Marmara.
Istanbul Avrasya maratonu a.k.a The Istanbul Marathon
Istanbul Avrasya maratonu, Istanbul intercontinental marathon or simply The Istanbul Marathon is the only transcontinental marathon in the world which participants run across two continents. The marathon starts on the Asian side of Istanbul’s July 15 Martyrs Bridge, formerly known as the Bosporus Bridge.
As we crossed the bridge, the outstanding view of the Bosphorus and Istanbul lined the cityscape. Further into the run was just like going back through time when we ran pass historical sites of the Imperial Istanbul of the 18thand 19thcentury including the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya Museum, before crossing the finish line at Sultanahmet Square in the European side of Turkey.
In this year’s edition, around 30,000 professional runners, including 3,500 foreigners from more than 100 countries, took part in the 40th Vodafone Istanbul Marathon. About 5,000 runners, of which more than half are foreigners, competed in the 42km marathon. If you are not into marathon, fret not, join the 15km, 10km or the 8km fun run. It would be fun too as about 100,000 people ran the 8km transcontinental Istanbul Marathon Fun Run this year.
If these facts do not convince you enough to run the Istanbul Marathon, read on…..
Most people would stay on, after a marathon, to tour a country. We did the opposite. We toured the country first. Yes, you read it right. Not only that we toured the country first but we began our tour from the pistachios of Gaziantep. Situated on the Southeastern side of Turkey, Gaziantep is the city for naturalists, historians, archaeologists, nature adventurers and enthusiasts of art.
Also known for its gastronomic connections to the ancient past, Gaziantep is listed in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. When you are here, Lahmacuns (a delicious pizza topped with spicy meat and herbs), lcli Kofte (a kind of meatball that has been cooked with a paste made of cracked wheat and meat and then fried) and baklava (a honey and nut pastry in Turkey) are the three of many must-try delicacies.
Spend at least 2 days here, Gaziantep has a long list of places for you to explore including:
- Zeugma Mosaic Museum (for the world-famous gypsy girl mosaic),
- Gaziantep Castle (built as a watchtower during the Roman times with the Justinian era appearance, the archaeology museum houses important artifacts from Neolithic, Hittite and Roman times),
- Kitchen Castle Muzesi,
- Medusa Glass Museum,
- Gaziantep Mevlevihanesi Museum,
- Copperware Bazaar,
- Historical Elmaci Bazaar, and
- Zincirli Covered Grand Bazaar
Don’t forget to enjoy a cup of coffee at the 400-year old coffee shop, Tahmis Kahvesi, too!
A little 3-hour drive further to the east of Gazinatep is the city of Adiyaman. As soon as we checked in our hotel, we were restless as we could not wait to wake up at 4 the next morning to scale Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dagi National Park) for the gigantic statues.
At the height of 2206m, the colossal statues of Apollo, Zeus, Hercules, Tyche, and Antiochus stand tall at the 1st century BC tomb built by King Antiochus I of Commagene. This is an eye-opener. How did they bring the 10m statues of gods to the summit?
As the sun began to rise, the spectacular view of Mount Nemrut became even more magnificent when the sunray shone on surrounding hills and mountains.
What more can you do in Adiyaman? Here is the list:
- Eskikale (Arsameia of Nymphaios) – a magnificent relief in the ruins of what scholars believe might have been the Commagene Palace depicts Hercules greeting King Antiochus.
- Seytan Koprusu
- Old and new Kahta Castle
- Cendere Bridge – the 2ndcentury Roman bridge still in use today.
- Karakus – another Commagene royal tumulus where a 9m-high pillar with an eagle on top was built in the 1stcentury BC.
- Adiyaman Archaeology Museum – where regional finds from the Lower Firat of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic ages are housed.
When you are done with Adiyaman, drive yourself 150km down south to the ancient city of Urfa, also known as Sanliurfa. With a history of 12,000 years, many monuments of ancient civilizations, which have remained buried for thousands of years, are being brought to light one by one by archaeological workings throughout the city.
Among them are the Neolithic Age settlements in Nevali-Çori in the county of Hilvan, the Chalcolithic Age settlement dating to 5000 BC in Kazane near the city centre and the artifacts dating from 10,000 BC in Biris cemetery in the county of Bozova.
Urfa is known as the “Jerusalem of Anatolia” and regarded as a holy site by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. According to the Old Testament, the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), “the father of three monotheistic religions”, was born in the city of Ur and he, together with his family, migrated to Harran, the “home of the patriarchs”.
Don’t leave Sanliurfa if you have not visited these places:
- Sanliurfa Archaeological Museum
- Göbekli Tepe
- Sipahi Bazaar
Another must-visit city when you are touring the Southeast side of Turkey is the city of rocks. Mardin, a 3-hour drive to the East of Sanliurfa, is known for its golden stone houses elegantly built on the steep slopes. When you walk the staircased streets, small squares and take in the view of the traditional dwellings in the city, the civilisation and culture of thousands of years are reflected before your eyes.
Two days to Istanbul Marathon. We wrapped up our tour to the Southeast side of Turkey with these last 3 places in Mardin before flying to Istanbul:
- Mardin Castle
- Monastery of Deyrulzafaran – once the ecumenical seat of the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Congregation dating back to 5th century, is the most important religious centre of the Syriac Orthodox Christians. It roofs 3 places of worship from various periods.
- Zinciriye Medrese
If your next run is the Istanbul Marathon, show this article to Turkish Airlines or your tour agent. You will be on your way to the whole new active tourism experience.