Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Turkey 3 - The Wonders of the Ancient World

The sunset at the Pamukkale 

We awoke that morning on the deck of our boat in the Mediterranean to thunder on the northern horizon. Above us, the sky was clear as the sun rose and filled in the pale early morning colors of the air. But to the west, over the mountains at the shoreline, clouds were gathering. Groggily, we folded our blankets and sheets, piling our mattresses and covering all the bedding just as the rain began to fall lightly and deliciously. As we pulled away from the dock where we spent the night, breakfast was served and the rain fell just enough to create a full rainbow across the sky, then faded as we arrived at a cove for one final swim before pulling back to shore.

From the Kekova islands we headed northwest along the coast to the small city of Dalyan, a pretty little town along canals leading from a huge lake to the place where the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas meet. Dalyan was probably my favorite city we visited the entire trip, filled with lots of shops, coffee shops and restaurants – and I say that only partly because of a great karaoke and dancing night out we had as a group. There was also really good coffee here.

We took a boat up and down the canals in Dalyan, across the lake ringed by mountains, and to a natural hot springs and mudbath spa. After covering ourselves in sulfuric mud and letting it dry in the sun, we rinsed it off and enjoyed a soak in a hot spring. Back in the boat, we headed toward the Sea, passing spectacularly carved ruins of the tombs of ancient kings along the cliff wall. We enjoyed our final afternoon of swimming in the Mediterranean and caught several glimpses of the local sea turtles, the Caretta Caretta’s. 

The group after our mudbaths
The tombs of ancient kings in the cliffs.
The guide Elif and Erwin dancing for us on our boat ride through the canals 

By public bus, we traveled inland again, arriving in the tourist city built below the giant calcium cliffs that are Pamukkale – “Cotton Castle” in Turkish – and the ruins of the ancient Greek city Hierapolis in the hills above. The cliffs are made from the hot springs which deposit a constant stream of fresh calcium with their hot water, running through several levels of what appear to be pristine tubs washing down the hillside. You can swim in these, as well as walk barefoot up the calcium wall – a feat which takes at least 15 minutes!

Walking down through the pools of hot spring water.
This peculiar phenomena and the apparent healing properties of the waters brought travelers and pilgrims here, and atop the calcium walls are the ruins of the ancient city Hierapolis. Unlike in Greece, in Turkey you can wander through, climb and touch the ruins, making it a much more magical and personal experience. From the steps of temples, hollowed out by millions of people over thousands of years stepping upon them, to the actual marble-lined roads of the city, you get an true sense for what it could have felt like to live in these cities - a special experience indeed.
Hireapolis ruins 
The theater at Hireapolis, which was the most incredible I have seen so far.
The Library of Celsus
But exploring Hierapolis is nothing compared to the grandeur of Ephesus: truly the most superbly well-persevered city in the Mediterranean and Aegean. We traveled to Ephesus the next day and explored the ruins in the hours before the sun was setting – after most of the cruise ships that land and bring hundreds of tourists ever day have left.

In ancient times city was much more crowded than Hierapolis ever was: this was a busy and essential port city, there were many more temples and the political life was much stronger through the Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires. You can see and walk through the ruins of temples to Gods of all kinds, cathedrals, public toilets, bath houses, brothels, the Library of Celsus, marketplaces, a theater and what they think may be the first ever advertisement in the world – for the brothel, of course. Each street is marble lined, with headless statues rising on all sides (it was easier to just put a new head on the statue when a new emperor came into power, so these were the most fragile parts of the statues.)
Walking down the street of Ephesus,
below used to be the harbor.

Mosaic floor tiles remaining from the marketplace
Public toilets - for men only, of course.

The main road of Ephesus, all marble stonework
Before the library of Celsus
In Ephesus there are evidence of hospitals, with the medical symbol we use to this day. You can still see the mosaic floor tiles that decorated the ground before “boutique” shops in the upper class marketplace. There are slabs in public areas with games carved into them – like chess boards in New York City parks. The Library of Celsus is an incredible work of art, covered in detailing, Latin writing and statues.

All that remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders
of the Ancient World.
Ephesus was a very important city in the ancient world: just beyond the city was the ancient Temple of Atriums – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today only a single column still stands and it’s hard to get a feel for the grandeur it once held, but you can go see it for free. It is also claimed that the Virgin Mary and St. John lived here after the death of Jesus, and there is a shrine built around the house they are said to have lived in. 

Wine tasting, as usual.
While visiting Ephesus we stayed in the city of Selçuk, which had plenty of its own tourist attractions to explore and enjoy. There is an ancient basilica and mosque and the ruins of a fort and castle atop the hill in town. The streets bustle with very artsy shops, where very unique Turkish jewelry and souvenirs could be found. Just five miles into the hills is the village of Şirince, a stunning little town with beautiful villas, lots of great wine to sample and plenty of shopping available. 

As the trip was winding down and we were all feeling much healthier than we did at the beginning, each meal felt harder. Every lunch and dinner, Elif would tell us we were welcome to go on our own, but we always met her and as a whole group wined and dined. It was an awesome and interesting group of people. I felt truly lucky to once again find myself inside a dynamic that suited my energy and style of traveling!

The slopped city walls of Troy
On our last night before we traveled back to Istanbul, we stopped at the ruins of Troy – you know, the place with the horse? The whole time I was in Turkey, I felt like people had been saying “Don’t expect much of Troy, there is nothing to see there. You just go because of the story.” Elif promised us a replica horse to play on, but told us not to get our hopes up again and again. I was imagining nothing more than maybe a field with perhaps some old stones nearly disintegrated and close to the ground level. So you can imagine my surprise when we walked up to some fully formed city walls and many layers of buildings. No, it’s not Ephesus, but there is certainly something there - including that horse replica, which is good for a photo-op.

The walls of the city of Troy, probably rebuilt after the fabled events (there is one layer of city remains where it is clear a huge fire caused major damage to the city - this is when they guess the Trojan War took place), but you can see why the Greeks had such a hard time getting into the city: the walls are slopped at a slight angle, making it nearly impossible to knock them down or do much structural damage. 

There is a horse there, and you can climb in it and
pretend to be an ancient Greek, if that's your thing
On our final morning together, we traveled along the Gallipoli Peninsula, an area heavily fought over in doomed battles between Australian and Turkish soldiers in WWI. For the Australians in the group, it was like arriving at Normandy - this was a famously disastrous campaign where thousands of people who had very little at stake in the War, being Turks and Australians, lost their lives over the course of several months of prolonged fighting in 1915. The area is now a huge memorial to all of the troops killed there, both Turkish and Allied Forces. 

Coming back into Europe and Istanbul was hectic - the energy of the city sweeps you right back in. We all spent one last evening together, enjoying rich Turkish food and laughing about those first days of stomach horror. Most of us had early flights to catch, and to a myriad of places around the world, so we headed to bed early, hugging and laughing.

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