Sightseeing in Selçuk: İsa Bey Mosque, the Basilica of St. John and the House of the Virgin Mary

Arriving in Selçuk in the dark and in the rain, I’m not sure that Mum was too happy with my decision to walk to the hostel. I wanted to go back to ANZ Guesthouse – where I’d stayed last time – and was sure I knew the way. Being a good daughter I gave Mum the umbrella. To be fair, both myself and my pack had a raincoat, so in hindsight it probably wasn’t that generous of me. And Mum doubted me! However, about five or ten minutes later I was trying to bargain down the price of a twin room with a ten-year-old boy. It’s not fair, bargaining with kids. They always win because the fact that they are miniature people softens you up.

We went down the road for dinner, to a little place I’d eaten before. After we’d eaten a woman arrived and we invited her to sit with us as she looked like a bit of a character. And were we right! Val regaled us with stories of her marriages and her holiday flings, and when Mum and I returned to the hostel we could not help but laugh. Having heard I’d been to Morocco she started going on and on about all the European floozies who head there in various states of undress, leading on the local men or sleeping around. Five minutes later she told us how she went to Morocco with a girlfriend about five years ago [I’ll note here that Val is 62] and they met a couple of young men [young as in 23]. Val fell instantly in love with one of them and knew that she just ‘had to’ sleep with him, so we got to hear all about her adventuring around Fez in search of a prophylactic device. [She blatantly ignored my queries about European floozies.] Unsuccessful this time, they kept in contact when she returned to England. A few months later she went back to Morocco and decided to marry him! [She also went better prepared in regards to prophylactics that time.] Five visits later they were married and he returned to England with here. Two weeks later they were living separately as she couldn’t stand him…but still wanted to sleep with him. Four years on she hasn’t divorced him, though apparently he treats her terribly – she insists there’s some kind of magical chemistry between them, plus she doesn’t want him to be deported as he’s on a spouse visa. Val claimed it took her a year to realise that all he wanted was UK citizenship! Mum and I had a great laugh when we returned to the hostel. She’d been staying at the hostel previously but had accepted an invitation from Mehmet, one of the owners of the restaurant, to stay with him. She was looking for some company… It was a VERY entertaining evening.

Val left, and Mum went next door to ‘just have a look’ at Ali Baba’s carpet shop. I got chatting to a Canadian guy, and after about half an hour realised that my mother had not returned. I went to check on her and found her in the process of buying a carpet! I had to help her bargain it down, only to find she’d also bought a bag! I managed to restrain her from buying anything else…that time.

The next morning we planned to do some sightseeing around town – in particular Isa Bey Mosque and the Basilica of St. John the Apostle. We decided against going to the Temple of Artemis – we had a great view of the single lonely column remaining from the terrace of the hostel. We met a bunch of cats and chickens on the way. The chickens were the scrawny long-legged type that do not look particularly delicious, and there seemed to be a crow-off happening between a few young roosters.

It began to rain as we entered Isa Bey Mosque. The interior of the mosque itself isn’t spectacular – especially compared to Istanbul – but the courtyard is quite beautiful and it’s age alone makes it worth visiting. The mosque was originally constructed in 1374-1375 and is one of few remaining examples of Anatolian beylik architecture. Plus, it has stairs you can climb for a nice view of the courtyard. Mum was very brave and climbed up, only to be rather nervous coming down the ancient and slippery marble steps.

By the time we left Isa Bey Mosque the rain was battering, and the one crappy umbrella we had wasn’t doing much good. My op-shop raincoat was doing ok, but the rest of me was soaked through in all of five minutes. So we walked on past St. John’s Basilica, deciding to upgrade our water protection gear. Heading into town we bought the first umbrellas we saw as the price didn’t seem unreasonable. Mum of course was instantly entranced by all the pretty things in the shop, and while I was outside talking with another shopkeeper she was buying a bloody box. I can’t leave her alone for five minutes! In the end the tally was a box with a painting on it, a bunch of jewellery and two umbrellas. Given her exorbitant spending in the less-than-24-hours that we’d been in Selçuk, we hit up a cheap little local pide shop for lunch. And it was delicious! A simple pide with lamb and vegetables and a side salad, and all for virtually nothing.

Mum had to have her picture taken behind the counter!

By the time we’d bought our umbrellas the rain had stopped [rain’s like that] and so we checked out the old aqueduct before returning to St. John’s. From May to September storks nest on top of the aqueduct, but out of season only the empty nests remain.

The Basilica of St. John the Apostle is a really lovely place to visit. Today it’s in ruins, but with a hint of imagination it’s not too hard to envisage how grand it must once have been. Plus you can climb on things, and I like climbing on things. I’ve decided it’s like feeding pigeons and seagulls – it’s fun at any age. But the main reason people visit the basilica is that it claims to be the final resting place of St. John the Apostle. The church is supposed to have been built over the tomb, although about five hundred years after St. John’s death. The apostle was believed to have lived out his last days in Ephesus, where it’s also thought by some that he took Mary, mother of Jesus.

The remains of the basilica include an octagonal baptistery with a cross-shaped immersion font, as well as the treasury [sans treasure], other rooms and plenty of columns. There’s plenty to explore, and many of the fallen columns and blocks of stone and marble bear beautiful carvings. There are also lovely views over Isa Bey Mosque, and you can see the Temple of Artemis too, if you look hard enough. It started raining again while we were there, validating our new purchases.

Before leaving the basilica, Mum decided that she wanted to do a little bit of graffiti. I was horrified! My mother, advocating damaging public property? And at an ancient and protected site of immense cultural and historical value? WTF could all this be about? She asked if I had my pocketknife, but I’d left it in my pack. So instead she found some sharp point rocks, handed them to me and forced me to carve my name. She carved hers after mine, evidencing our visit. Don’t worry, there was no ‘Cat & Bron woz ere 2012’. The pictures are below.

Did I forget to mention we were carving into a cactus [a prickly pear to be precise]?

After visiting Ephesus the next day [there’ll be a separate post on that, don’t worry!], Mum really wanted to visit Meryemana – the House of the Virgin Mary. Ali Baba of the carpet and kebab shop fame took us out there. I’m just going to say it: I personally do not believe that Mary lived there. But then I’m a cynic, and I’ll need a little more evidence than the bizarrely accurate visions of a 19th century German nun to convince me. I was still interested in visiting.

So, briefly, here’s the story of the House of the Virgin Mary:

In the 19th century, in what we now call Germany, a bedridden Augustinian nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, began having visions of the last days of the life of Christ and the life of the Virgin Mary. An author who visited her many times over a five year period noted down the details of her visions and published a book with them. In one of the published visions, Emmerich saw a house built by the Apostle John for Mary outside Ephesus, describing in detail both the house and its surroundings. It should be noted that Emmerich had never visited Turkey or Ephesus. In 1881 a French priest discovered a small building in the mountains outside Ephesus that matched the descriptions from Emmerich’s visions. The Catholic Church has not ‘officially’ confirmed its position or announced whether they believe the house is authentic, however more than one Pope has made a pilgrimage to the site since its discovery showing that the Church has at least given it an unofficial blessing.

What is there today is a small chapel that was apparently the original house. No photographs are allowed of the interior which, to be honest, is nothing special. You can purchase candles to be lit outside, and nice new paths lead up to the chapel and a wishing wall. Mum lit some candles, which was a bit of a struggle as it was quite windy.

We walked past the wishing wall on our way out, and I found it a bit tacky. I’ve seen a number like it, but they were mostly tied with scraps of ribbon or fabric. At least 95% of this one was made of dried up Wet Wipes, which seems a little distasteful. One hopes that they were clean ones. A few scraps of fabric were evident, as well as some luggage tags and the wrappers of both water bottles and chocolate bars. It looked more like a wall made of rubbish than something sacred. Tourists and pilgrims alike were writing their wishes or desires on scraps of whatever they had at hand [wet wipes] and tying them to the wall. We didn’t. I’ve had no luck with wishing wells or wishing trees, and I doubted this would be any different! I’m pretty sure that the Virgin Mary has better things to do. Still, I’m glad we visited the site. I hadn’t gone last time as it was expensive to get a taxi there.

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2 responses to “Sightseeing in Selçuk: İsa Bey Mosque, the Basilica of St. John and the House of the Virgin Mary

  1. Thats the first time in my life that I have ever “graffitied”any thing , plus I don’t think it really counts as graffiti because it was on a not so prickly pear plant that had peoples names on almost every part of it – when in Selcuk do what all the other Sulcuk’s do.

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