A mere 108 years ago, what must have been an extraordinary sight to the locals appeared in Bodrum: a doughty Englishwoman in her skirt and hat and sturdy boots strode down the hill to make a search for and find some piles of old stones in a couple of fields (The Mausoleum and the Temple of Mars). She was very aware that she was the centre of attention:

So down into the bazaar where I eat, to the surprise and delight of the town. I was famished by this time.

After looking around the walls of the Castle – at that time still a prison, she then turned around and strode back over the hill to her ‘kaik’ to get back to Güllük.

Gertrude Bell as a young woman
Gertrude Bell as a young woman

A determined woman

The locals must have indeed wondered at this foreigner with her Turkish servants who came to look at those old stones. It is doubtful that there were many foreign visitors to the tiny isolated fishing and sponge-diving town in those days.

In the case of that determined Englishwoman, we know that she was none other than the renowned Miss Gertrude Bell, who was pursuing her great interest in archaeology. Thanks to all her diaries and papers bequeathed to then transcribed and digitalized at Newcastle University, UK, we are still able to follow her journeys today.

A doughty woman who travelled Asia Minor and the Middle East
A doughty woman who travelled Asia Minor and the Middle East

A women of many roles

Gertrude Bell is a very topical figure now, being the ‘Kingmaker’ the spy, the political mover for the British Empire of the early 20th Century, as the present painfully vicious upheavals of the Middle East tear apart the lands and the peoples of old Mesopotamia, which she helped divide into the countries of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan.

A biography (and now a film) of Gertrude Bell Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach tracks most of her life in Iraq, but as realised last year by Cappadocian resident and travel writer Pat Yale, Gertude had also spent considerable time in Turkey; a story that had until this point remained uninvestigated.

A controversial woman of many roles
A controversial woman of many roles

Gertrude Bell in Turkey

Pat recounted how it all started as we chatted and rambled around Bodrum:

I had an inspired moment when visiting the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC) in Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul at the 2014 exhibition based on Nazli Hamdi’s guestbook; a fascinating list of the people who visited her father Osman Hamdi, ‘the father’ of museums and archaeology. Gertrude Bell was featured, as she was a great friend of Osman Hamdi, and a student of his archaeology and museums. So much so that she went on to found the Baghdad Museum along the same principles. Gertrude was an Oxford scholar and an excellent archaeologist, writing a reference book of the ‘1001’ Byzantine Churches near Afyon.

An inspirational journey was underway

There is a story here, I thought and it was then I decided to research and really pursue Gertrude’s travels in Turkey.

So began the blog ‘Following Miss Bell’, and the start of a fascinating journey of discovery.

It might be clichéd but it describes Pat’s travels based on her the transcribed diary – with all the flaws and mistakes of transcription of Gertrude’s phonetic spelling of old names, some nearly lost to human memory. Listening to Pat and my archaeologist husband Bahadir work through the names of just the Milas – Bodrum area was a lesson in how important local knowledge works in this type of research.

Tracing Bell’s visit to Bodrum

Pat had called me up in Bodrum for coffee and to see where Gertrude tramped in that single visit to ‘Budrum’ on 17th April, 1907.

We took to the lanes to trace out the distance between ‘the bazaar’, the Temple of Mars, the Ancient Theatre, the Mausoleum and the Castle; an itinerary that leaves most modern tourists flagging even without a trek first from (as we thought) Torba beach. We too had to retire ‘famished’ for a meal on Bodrum’s waterfront and discuss Gertrude more. 

21st century Bodrum
21st century Bodrum

Pat started here own journey in April, in Izmir, deciding to leaving Istanbul until later, and already had delved into the remains of the old Levantine Izmir community, fortunate to sit where Gertrude had sat in the gardens of one of the old British families.

This combination of research and serendipity has yielded Pat some amazing moments since she left Bodrum too, as her travels mean visiting every site that Gertrude visited.

Gertrude Bell - Babylon

Even with the help of taxi drivers, and locals, going up hill and mountain must be leaving Pat gasping, as she makes no claim to be ‘the accomplished alpine mountain climber’ that Gertrude was, in her hob-nailed boots. Hence the ascent of Mt. Hasan- a proper mountain in central Anatolia, remains Pat’s greatest challenge, and one for the cooler months at the end of the year.

She has met the last (retired) honorary British Consul of Iskenderun, found the last men of Jewish Antakya, and walked on ancient roads rarely trodden.

I am now (virtually) following Pat Yale as she finds the remnants of an older Turkey at the end of the Ottoman era, ‘the slow end of older traditions’, until all the travels are combined into her book. I suggest anyone interested should too and discover a whole new ‘old’ Turkey.

About Pat Yale

Pat Yale has been writing guidebooks and articles about Turkey for more than two decades.

Pat Yale in Bodrum [without the hat]
Pat Yale in Bodrum [without the hat]
Since April 2015 Pat has been retracing the journeys of Gertrude Bell during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. This pioneering tourist and archaeologist visited Asia Minor, where she researched into Byzantine church architecture, subsequently writing two books about places in what is now Turkey: The A Thousand and One Churches (with Sir William M. Ramsey) and The Churches and Monasteries of the Tur Abdin. Her other books, including Persian Letters, From Amurath and Amurath, and The Desert and the Sown, also contain accounts of her adventures in Turkey even though it is not the main focus. In addition Bell left a rich legacy of letters and diaries, all of them now made available online by University of Newcastle.

Tracing the path of Miss Bell

For purposes of this project I will be amalgamating all her different journeys into one long loop around the country.

More about Gertrude Bell

This short BBC film briefly outlines the life story of Gertrude Bell.

And even more up to the minute, and the perfect coincidence, “Queen of the Desert” is Book of the Week, every day this week on BBC Radio 4. You can listen to it on line here, wherever you are in the world. Here is some more information from the BBC:

The story of Gertrude Bell and her crucial role in the foundation of the state of Iraq.

One hundred years ago, Iraq did not exist as a nation. It was a region without borders or a ruler. In the aftermath of the First World War, great men – and Gertrude Bell – assembled to determine the future of such countries.

First published in 2006, Queen of the Desert by Georgina Howell has been reissued – partly to coincide with the Werner Herzog film of the same title, but also to provide the long view on the troubled history of a remarkable country [Iraq].

Using letters written by Gertrude Bell throughout the period, the book tells the story of an extraordinarily talented and determined woman who has often been overshadowed by her more famous friend, T.E. Lawrence.

Keep in touch with Pat Yale’s travels via her website, Twitter feed (@patyale) or her Facebook page.

Useful links

The Blog: The Bodrum Day- Miss Gertrude Bell’s Diary.

The Gertrude bell Archive

More about Hamdi bey‘s circle

Many thanks to Chris Drum Berkaya for giving Fethiye Times permission to publish this interview.