David Pierce | Matematik | M.S.G.S.Ü.


Antalya Algebra Days XV

In 2013, May 22–25, the fifteenth annual conference called Antalya Algebra Days was held for the first time at the Nesin Mathematics Village. Below are ten photographs from this event.

Elsewhere I catalogue my accounts, or least photographs, of some earlier visits to Antalya Algebra Days and to the Nesin Mathematics Village. Here I review my experience with the event and the place.

My spouse, Ayşe Berkman, along with two of her colleagues (and former teachers), started Antalya Algebra Days in 1999. I myself first attended this meeting in 2001, when it was held at the former Bilkent Hotel in the touristic village of Göynük, in the district of Kemer, west of Antalya, on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. I have been attending Antalya Algebra Days ever since then, usually as one of the organizers. This year I had retired from such a role, so I had no duties.

The Nesin Mathematics Village is near the village of Şirince, which lies in the hills above the town of Selçuk, the district center, in the province of İzmir, on the Aegean coast of Turkey.

View Antalya & Şirince in a larger map

Ayşe and I went to Selçuk in August of 1998, during my first visit to Turkey. We had stayed a few days in Fethiye on the Mediterranean coast, then travelled west along the coast to Bodrum. This was the ancient Halicarnassus, hometown of Herodotus. From there, we continued west to Selçuk.

I remember being impressed by the greenness of Selçuk. Fethiye had been green too, being backed by pine-covered mountains. But at Bodrum the hills were lower and drier. Selçuk was built on the silt of the river once called Cayster or Caystros, now Küçük Menderes. So the town was surrounded by farmland.

During our 1998 visit to Selçuk, I wrote in a journal as follows.

The Barım Pension is gorgeous, and the town is nice too. The pension is supposedly in a restored 18th century farmhouse. Our room is large by pension standards and has no right angles. Climbing vines surround the windows, which overlook the brick-paved street behind the museum. The building has two courtyards, and we sat in the inner one last night in a booth defined by vines, at the sides and overhead. There was a table surrounded by cushions. On the opposite wall was a fountain over a fishtank; the centerpiece was a copy of the statue of Artemis with the testicles surrounding it. The place seemed enchanted.

The Artemis statue was a reproduction of the statue found in the museum. The museum statue was a Roman copy of the Greek original in the famous Temple of Artemis on the road from Selçuk to Ephesus.

Ayşe and I visited Selçuk again a few years later with my mother. We had caught a bus from elsewhere to İzmir. At the İzmir otogar, we alit and immediately boarded a minibus for Selçuk. My mother was impressed at how well-organized transportation was in Turkey. It amused Ayşe and me to think that anything in Turkey would be considered well-organized. Since then, when travelling about the country by mass transit, we have often had reason to note the correctness of my mother's remark.

During that second visit to Selçuk, Ayşe recalled that the nearby village of Şirince was said to be of interest. We caught a minibus there and poked around, along with other tourists. The Nesin Mathematics Village was still years in the future. The Nişanyan Hotel must have been there though. Sevan Nişanyan was Ali Nesin's friend. I believe it had been Sevan's wife Müjde, before they were married, who originally discovered Şirince as a potential tourist destination.

Physical rudiments of the Math Village were beginning to form when Ayşe and I returned to Şirince in 2007. Ali Nesin had for several years been giving summer courses to his mathematics students from Istanbul Bilgi University. He had been using hotels for this purpose, until he decided to build a permanent home for the summer school. I believe Sevan Nişanyan put up money for this and did the designing and contracting. Meanwhile, for the 2007 summer school, Ali Nesin and his students were living mostly in tents.

The Nesin Mathematics Village is named for Ali's late father Aziz. Aziz chose his family's name: Nesin means “What are you?” Aziz Nesin founded an orphanage, which is still supported in part by the sale of his books.

In the summer of 2008, summer school at the Nesin Mathematics Village was open to all university students, and Ayşe and I offered courses there, as we have done every summer since then. Honestly, I am not sure what students get out of the courses. Courses are six days long, two hours a day, and students may take several. They have little time for studying. I suppose they benefit mainly from seeing that for some of us, mathematics is simply a worthwhile way to spend our time. They may see this all the more readily, given that we all live together at the Village.

In my own courses there, I try to offer something different from what students would see in the regular school year. My first course was on conic sections as presented by Apollonius himself. Next year I taught non-standard analysis, starting with its pre-history in Archimedes. One can imagine that the hills around the Village do not look much different from when these old mathematicians were active.

The Math Village has had troubles with the authorities. I cannot give a full account of these. I think mainly the authorities themselves cannot understand how somebody could build a village and draw students to it, purely for the sake of mathematics.

Ali Nesin has urged for some time that Antalya Algebra Days should be held at the Math Village, rather than a hotel. I have supported this view in principle, while acknowledging that the village has not had the facilities for hosting all conference participants under one roof. It still has not such facilities. But it is getting better all the time, especially now that the library has been built.

Some participants in Antalya Algebra Days this year had to commute from hotels down in Şelçuk, or just over in Şirince. Ayşe and I were going to stay in the Math Village itself; but then construction of some rooms was not finished as planned. Consequently, we were given a room in Şirince, at the Nişanyan House Hotel.

The hotel is really a complex of buildings, spread out in the gardens on a hill above the village of Şirince. We had Room number 4 among the five rooms of the Tower House. We entered our room from a small courtyard with a fountain. In the exterior wall opposite the entrance, there was another door, leading to a patio that was intended for our exclusive use. However, we found somebody else already sitting there. He was a peacock.


Beyond the patio was the tower for which the Tower House was named. The tower was built in response to government threats to tear down all illegal buildings in Şirince, including, presumably, many of those that formed part of the Nişanyan House Hotel. Sevan Nişanyan called the tower Hodri Meydan. He translates this as “[I] Dare You”, and a dictionary suggests also “Come and Try”; but perhaps “Fuck You” would also serve. It is well visible from Şirince village.


The tower could be reserved in the evening. Says the hotel website,

There's space for a table, two chairs and a sofa at the top. We serve you a full-fledged champagne dinner and withdraw from the scene.

Indeed, on Saturday morning, I found the table covered with a red cloth, and then a white cloth, on which stood an oil lamp and a small vase of flowers. It was not clear whether particular use had been made of the sofa.

I used the sofa myself in the mornings, or the table, to try to write out the proof of a new theorem, or to read Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. At least, I did these things, if I was not taking photographs.

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I was reading Weber for an intended email discussion. The Protestant work ethic seemed à propos. We were in a gorgeous setting, but our purpose was to do mental work. What motive was behind this? Was the setting an inspiration for our work, or a distraction from it?

When I would go to the tower before dawn, the peacock was usually still on his roost atop the chimney of our own room. Eventually he would fly down and wander about. On Friday morning, when the sun was well up, and I went back to the room to take Ayşe to breakfast, I found the peacock doing his mating display on the patio.


There was no other creature about that I could see. However, later that morning, when we headed off for the Mathematics Village, we found the peacock displaying again, by the aviary of the hotel. There may have been a peahen inside. It seems peahens and other birds do not survive, if they are allowed to wander freely; so they are caged up. But the peacock can apparently fight off all predators.

Breakfast was usually the only time we saw the other guests of the hotel—or rather of our part of the hotel, which included the five rooms of the Tower House, as well as seven cottages scattered about the hillside. In fact Ayşe and I had spent a couple of nights in one of those cottages, in 2008, when there was no room at the pension down in the village that Sevan Nişanyan was also running at the time.

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I wrote then, in 2008, that the Nişanyan cottages were too luxurious. The environment might induce one to forget everything else. On the other hand, apparently it does not do this. Some of the foreign guests, mostly American, would read the English-language Turkish newspapers that were provided each morning. But what is the point of going on holiday, especially at the Nişanyan House Hotel, if you are going to keep one eye on the outside world?

I myself did glance at the Turkish newspapers once this year, and I spotted, below the fold, a small notice that Sevan Nişanyan had been sentenced to more than a year in prison for insulting Islam. I reported this to my fellow guests. Nişanyan's own account of the matter is on his blog. I am glad that he does more than run the hotel.

Something he does, besides run the hotel and say controversial things, is build buildings at the Nesin Mathematics Village. The latest building is the library. I found it spectacular.


The tiles on the library floor were the same as on the floor of our bathroom at the Tower House. Apparently Ali Nesin thought they were unnecessary for the library. Of course he was correct, but I was still happy to see them.


As pleasing as the artificial beauties of the library may be, the green hills outside are to me the main physical attraction of the place.


I remembered a photographic installation at the Istanbul Modern art museum, showing a an abandoned holiday resort. Vines and their debris covered surfaces that would once have been kept clear. With the construction of the library, the Nesin Mathematics Village seems now firmly established. But this is an illusion. Without maintenance, the Math Village too would crumble away.

Son değişiklik: Tuesday, 06 August 2013, 14:06:17 EEST