Of Places in Turkey: A Pocket Grand Tour by Francis Russell
published by Frances Lincoln Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7112-3061-3, price £14.99
Review published in Country Life, February 2010
If poets perch on the pinnacle of the literary pyramid, writers of guidebooks must labour in the dark foundation trenches, working like slaves for a mere pittance, for publishers who have often ‘assumed’ the copyright. Their books are seldom reviewed but are instead routinely pulped and over-written by the next generation of hungry young hacks.
Places in Turkey should break through such mindless indifference. It is a labour of love, a passionate commitment to mood, to the chance remnants of history, architecture and craft. It is a pocket-book packed with inspiration, and returns us to the animating purpose of travel: to arrive, too look, to contemplate and to learn. In this book the author arrives alone at the melancholic ruins of a line of imposing Roman warehouses by the old docks of Andriake, stands strangely moved beside the ‘waterlogged’ site of the sanctuary of Letoun (still haunted by frogs), is bewitched before the monumental rustic simplicity of the Carian temple at Gerga, paces the walls of the Rhodian fortress that still commands the near perfect natural harbour of Loryma and follows the line of the Hellenistic walls that sprout from the granite tors to encircle Heracleia – where the goddess of the Moon fell in love with the sleeping Endymion. Editing the glories of Anatolia down to just 83 entries is in itself a labour of Hercules, but Russell quickly earns your respect by his eye for the telling detail, his love of nature, for taking the hard path, for chatting-up local shepherds, for giving hitch-hikers lifts and for respecting the Kurdish, Armenian, Georgian and Greek elements which have all helped form the heritage of modern Turkey. He acquires the right to make an emphatic judgement through the breadth of his experience, through repeated visits to favourite sites and meticulous attention to the detail, so that one listens when he announces that the oracular temple at Didyma is the ‘single most beautiful classical monument in Asia Minor’ or when he usefully compares the shelving used for scrolls at the Roman Library at Nysa with that at Ephesus.
Places in Turkey is also admirably free of so much as a mention of a hotel or five star restaurant, let alone a golf course, marina development or tourist office website link. There are some useful directions for the right approach track once you are within a day’s walk of your destination, but most mortals will also need an additional guidebook and map if not a local guide. Russell is also modest about his stamina, and you will require a staff, thick trousers and tough boots if you aspire to follow in his footsteps, let alone join him in enjoying the view from the acropolis. But above all do not be led astray by the sub-title, into any ideas that you can pack all this into a single Grand Tour.
I have been exploring Turkey for some twenty-five years (with what my family regards as an obsessional interest in ruins) and have only made it to about a third of Places in Turkey. Though small, the book has been beautifully made by the publishers (with sewn sections, clear typeface and a sprinkling of photographs that adorn - yet do not suffocate - the text). Indeed my review copy has already been placed beside Rose Macauly’s Pleasure of Ruins. Or like an animated prologue it could be slipped in front of the massed volumes of Sinclair’s survey of Eastern Turkey and George Bean’s surveys of Western Turkey, which are the badges of identity by which contemporary Orientalists and Turkophiles identify themselves.
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by Barnaby Rogerson