This world cruise has been wonderful in terms of visiting new ports together with some places we have previously visited. An unavoidable aspect of a cruise such as this one is that the time spent at any port is usually confined to one day, at most two days with an overnight stay. Thus, the short visits offer only a superficial introduction to most locations. There are some places we would never want to visit again. But others beckon toward longer visits in the future.
Acre & Haifa, Israel
Because Susan’s sister has lived in Israel for many years, we have visited her many times during the past decades. We had previously visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other sites in Israel. So we prioritized spending the first day with Susan’s sister and, on the second, we took the tour of the Crusaders’ Castle in Acre (known also as Akku), which we had never toured before.
Such a history! The crusades were launched in the beginning of year 1096 with the goal of expelling the Muslims from Jerusalem. There were six crusades that supported the crusaders’ presence in Israel for two hundred years. The crusaders only managed to conquer the city of Jerusalem once, during which they killed all its inhabitants, including Christians, Moslems, and Jews. In fact, the crusaders had murdered Jews all across Europe as they encountered them in route to the Holy Land. The crusaders failed ultimately because they didn’t settle into the land, begin to grow their own food, and reconcile with the local population. Instead, they depended on ships from Europe to bring food and other supplies. Their presence was not strong enough to counter the larger Islamic forces that regarded them as infidel invaders.
The city of Acre is situated across the harbor from present-day Haifa. Acre was an important base and staging area for the crusaders coming from Europe as they prepared to fight the Moslems. The crusaders, including the castle’s founders, the Knights Hospitallers (from which we have the word hospital) were finally expelled in 1291 after the Siege of Acre. The Knights Hospitallers migrated first to Rhodes (our next Viking port of call) for three hundred years, followed by several centuries in Malta (our previous port of call), until they were expelled from Malta by Napoleon in 1798.
We had an excellent Israeli guide for our tour, a Jewish Haifa native. He related his background, growing up in a mixed Arab-Jewish Haifa neighborhood. Haifa remains the city in Israel where Jews and Moslems coexist most peacefully, though there have been conflicts, including bombings and murders during the Arab Intifadas (rebellions). Our guide said some interesting things:
“Every one of us is an infidel for somebody.”
“I don’t foresee peace in this area as long as religion is involved.”
“They (Arabs) have their story of their history, and we (Jews) have ours.”
“Israel is the place where larger regional conflicts are acted out.”
The continuing Middle East conflicts are a sad continuation of centuries of wars, including conquests by the Minoans, the Myceneans, the Hittites, the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the Italians, the Germans, the British, etc. In that light, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just a continuation of the conquest by a powerful country against a weaker one.
However, the survival of various peoples and religions around the world is a testament to the indominable human spirit. Superior technology does not assure victory. The Jews survived the German/European holocaust to create the country of Israel. The Afghans repelled the Russian invasion in1997 and then the American invasion in 2003 in search of Osama bin Laden. Palestinian Arabs confined as stateless prisoners of Israel in Gaza and the West Bank since the 1967 war have not acquiesced to fifty+ years of Israeli rule enforced by superior technology and overwhelming force. And now the Russians are encountering the same uncompromising resistance by the people of Ukraine.
Rhodes is a Greek island very close to the coast of Turkey. Rhodes was home to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This huge statue was destroyed by an earthquake in 224 BC. (No trace exists, and we can only speculate as to what it looked like.)
Rhodes’s strategic position in the Aegean Sea led to its being occupied as early as in the 15th century BC by the Minoans, followed by military conquests the Myceneans, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans.
On our short visit, we toured an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the god Apollo located on a hill overlooking the village of Lindos. Several of the temple’s original columns have been reassembled using original pieces from the ruins. It remains a popular tourist destination. Tourism is currently the primary industry of Rhodes. The island has only around fifty thousand residents, but it welcomes several million visitors a year (pre-covid).
The old city and fortress of Rhodes constitute the largest surviving medieval city wall and palace in the world. There was a moat surrounding the outer wall, but also two inner walls, also bounded by moats. The fortress was never conquered by force, only by persuasion or betrayal. The historic inner palace of the fortress was expanded when Rhodes was under Italian control, 1912-1943. It was supposed to serve as a royal retreat for fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini, but Mussolini never managed to visit the restored/expanded palace. Unfortunately, when the Nazi Germans took control of Rhodes in 1943, they deported the 3,000 member Jewish population of Rhodes to Auschwitz from which less than two hundred Jews survived.
Kusadasi is the Turkish port city that provides access to the extensive ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus, a site mentioned in the bible for the visit by the Apostle Paul and also the place where Jesus’s mother Mary spent her last years. Susan and I have visited Ephesus twice on our previous Turkish tours. So during our day in Kusadasi, we chose to visit ruins of a Roman theater in the formerly Roman city of Miletus and the Oracle of Didyma, a Greek temple ruin dedicated to Apollo.
In the Greek ruins, one can see that the noses (if not the whole faces) of statues are destroyed. We had heard from our guides in Egypt, Israel, and now Turkey, that the Ottoman Christians were responsible for defacing the statues from Turkey to Egypt. Our guide in Turkey finally clarified the reason for this fact. The ancient Greeks and Romans conducted animal sacrifices, which were intended to offer their gods the possibility of smelling the burning flesh and recognize that they were being worshiped through this act of sacrifice. Breaking the noses off the statues was the Christians’ way of symbolizing that these Greek and Roman gods couldn’t smell, that they were false gods, that Christians didn’t practice animal sacrifices (except for the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son), and so the destruction by Christians of pagan Greek and Roman statues was justified. The medieval Christians treated their enemies like the modern ISIS fundamentalist Islamists do, destroying ancient art, statues, and temples as was witnessed in the last two decades in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
Today as I write this, our ship is transiting the Dardanelles, the narrow waterway that leads from the Mediterranean Sea to Istanbul and the Bosporus waterway which leads to the Black Sea, the Crimea and Ukraine. Currently, warships of all nationalities are banned by Turkey from transiting these waterways. However, we saw a Russian tanker displaying a large Z, the symbol of the Russian war against Ukraine. This tanker was transporting Russian oil to some place (India? North Korea? China?).
In conclusion, Turkey is a modern country of over eighty million people. It is rich is natural resources. The Mediterranean coastal area of Turkey contains some of the most verdant fertile landscapes I’ve ever seen. Our guide explained that Turks in Western Turkey are more European in their attitudes and orientation, due to centuries of contact with other European people. But the eastern part of Turkey is poorer with a much more barren desert landscape. On the east, Turkey borders Iran, Iraq, and Syria. These neighboring countries have affected the Turks in the east such that fundamentalist Islam is much stronger than in the western part of Turkey.
Unfortunately, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to weaken the secular state established by Turkey’s famous leader Ataturk. He seeks to increase the influence of Islam throughout the country while also increasingly allying Turkey with Russia while distancing Turkey from the US. Another blatant example of increased fundamentalism is that Erdogan converted the famous Hagia Sofia cathedral into a mosque again, after it having been a museum and famous tourist attraction since Ataturk’s time. But as I’ve stated before, one should not equate a country’s government with its people. Often there is a big gap between the political aims of the government versus the character and traditions of its people.