23 April 2005

Down among the graves and snails

Whenever I am in Turkey, I like to visit old cemeteries, especially the ones with fallen tombstones and crumbling graves overtaken by a wild assortment of plants. In fact, the older and more unkempt a cemetery is, the more attractive I find it. However, my interest in such cemeteries, far from being morbid or religious, is entirely educational and malacological. I have learned much about the demographics and customs of the late 19th and the early 20th century Anatolia during visits to cemeteries. At the Jewish Askenazi cemetery in Istanbul, for example, one can see intermingling tombstones with writings in Hebrew, German and Turkish, representing the flow of historical change during the course of the 20th century.


Besides, graveyards are good places to find snails. I have noted that in the metropolitan Istanbul area, the old cemeteries are among the few remaining places where one can still find native land snail species1. The picture above shows the graves at the Moslem cemetery on Heybeliada in the Sea of Marmara, off Istanbul, where I have collected Mastus carneolus, a native.

Now I have a slowly growing list of “cemeteries to be visited” for my next trip to Turkey.


Field assistant Deniz with a bag of the remains of the dead (snails, of course) at the cemetery of the Profitis Ilias Greek church, Istanbul.

1. Örstan, A. 2004. Cemeteries as refuges for native land snails in Istanbul, Turkey. Tentacle, No. 12, pp. 11-12. pdf

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