Every town, whether it be in the mountains, on the plain or by a river, has a story of its own. Someone at some time starts it off, and if it is interesting enough others take it up and it spreads. A story related beneath a plane or an olive tree is soon on everyone’s lips. By the time the story gets back to the person who first made it up, it has been embroidered and elaborated almost beyond recognition.
This is the source of all myths and legends. People love to gossip, exaggerate and invent. A straightforward narrative can never survive for long without being pulled into new shapes, trimmed here, and bits added there. It would not attract listeners unless it opened the door into the world of dreams, and it would soon wither and die without elements of fear and power, palaces and love. The hold of storytellers over their audiences surpasses that of wizards thanks to their skill at weaving stories that capture the imagination and forge a bond with the natural world.
Nature is ever a source of joy and hope for storytellers and listeners alike, a place to escape and dream.
On the Dilek Peninsular just west of Soke in Turkey’s Aegean region is Mount Samsun, the ancient Mykale, and on the slopes of this mountain is the village of Eski Doganbey. Of course, this village has a story! How could it not? Many escapees from the city like us came here years ago in pursuit of a story, following a route that took us past Soke, Gullubahce, and Priene. Fleeing the urban conflagration, we also managed to escape the tourism conflagration in Kusadasi on the way!
There are not just one but many stories relating to Eski Doganbey, alias Ntomatia, Domatia or Domacya, just as there are thousands of myths and legends relating to the earth, trees, and clouds of Anatolia. There is no need to set one against the other in competition, or we would find ourselves unable to decide between Pan’s flute and Apollo’s Lyre.
What is a dream for one of us is a disappointment for another… So let us suffice with two reasons for visiting Eski Doganbey.
One concerns the Buyuk Menderes (Meander) river, source of the meander motif that has figured in the art for thousands of years. Telling the legend in detail would take a long time, so leaving you to look it up for yourselves in a book on mythology, we suggest that you examine the marble of every monumental building you see in the Aegean region. If your curiosity takes you to Priene, Miletus, and Didyma, you are sure to end up in Eski Doganbey. Then you can climb Mount Mykale, fragrant with thyme and sage, and bright with narcissus, broom, and daisies. The second reason is the olive groves, cotton fields, and anemones. Perhaps you were expecting something more spectacular. But there is nothing extraordinary here except heaps of stone, ruined houses and uneven roads paved with black and white marble.
If it is oleanders you are looking for, they are everywhere, the only plant that the cattle avoid. White, pink and purple bougainvillea is also as abundant as the multitudes of the earth. Then there are the yellow flowers that spring out of the stone walls and which no one cares sufficiently about to give them a name. Instead, they are constantly pulled up as undesirable weeds. They have never done me any harm, and I think they must have a Latin name and be useful for something, but no one listens to me. This nameless flower grows to the same height as the reeds by the side of the roads whose golden yellow tassels bend to greet the sunset. Do I need to mention the tangerine, orange, bitter orange and pepper trees?
In the past, the local people made a living from olive cultivation, viticulture, and beekeeping, and apart from viticulture they still do. The honey of nearby Karine is famous. Their neighbors on the island of Samos used to visit.
In the delta of the Buyuk Menderes, there are gilt-head bream, sea bass, and grey mullet, and the migrating flamingos stop here. I used to see the chestnut, piebald and white wild horses of the Dilek Peninsular go down to the river to drink. And another good excuse for a story is the wasps that are a symbol of the city of Ephesus, and apparently still have their uses, since I have actually heard people claim that a wasp sting had done their rheumatism good. Perhaps that is why there are relief carvings of wasps on the tiles of Doganbey. To eat good fish, there is a nice place in the nearby fishing village of Karine, which is also just an ordinary place. It looks out over the sea and of course the sunset. The only trouble is that you can hear nothing but the sounds of nature! Every village has its small square with a spreading plane tree in the center. There is one here too where you can satisfy your yearning to chat in the street, drink a cup of coffee, breathe pure air, and with the warm sun on your back forget that the time will come when you have to leave.
On behalf of the village, I am happy to be the first to announce that the large building at the entrance to the village that was once a clinic and before that a school is now under conservation. Indeed the entire village is under conservation, along with the Menderes Delta. This building is being turned into a cultural center by the Department of National Parks and is now under restoration by the architect Fikri Aktan, who has restored many other buildings around Turkey. He approaches his task meticulously, carefully matching every stone and every timber, and never taking any shortcuts just because it is ‘only a village’. Perhaps this cultural center will throw light on the mystery of Mount Mykale and the countryside and culture of the Menderes Delta. Eski Doganbey is not a dream, but perhaps the shadow of a dream.