Monday, 28 April 2014

Ephesus - the jewel in Turkey's "ancient cities" crown

Looking down the main street of Ephesus
You would think that after nearly three weeks in Turkey and countless visits to ruined cities we would, by now,
be getting "all ruined out" but this was not the case.  Each ruined city we had visited had something fascinating and unique to offer and so it was with a great sense of anticipation that we set out for Ephesus.

 Dating back to the 7th century BC Ephesus was a vital link on the great trade route. Originally built beside the sea it was moved up onto the slopes of Mt Pion when silt filled the bay. The site of battles, revolts and conquests, including being claimed  by Alexander the Great, the city had a long and colourful history.  It was a glorious place during the Hellenistic period and was ceded to Rome by the Pergamese in 133BC.  The Anatolians revolted against the rule of Rome,  killing many Romans and in retaliation were punished with heavy taxes. During the reign of Augustus, Ephesus became the most important and powerful city in Asian Rome.  Christianity spread rapidly into Ephesus.  St Paul, who preached there, was despised by the Romans and imprisoned in the nearby lighthouse.  The Virgin Mary lived nearby with St John until her death. The Goths destroyed Ephesus and the Temple to Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, in 262AD.  The city's glory days were over.  With the port of Ephesus completely silted up the city was no longer a centre of trade and gradually declined until, in the 14th century it was abandoned.  I am no historian and many great scholars have written about the history of Ephesus.  It is a fascinating history and well worth a read.

Nike, Goddess of Victory

So, as a simple tourist, what did I think of Ephesus?  Well it is simply marvellous, far and away the best ruined city we had seen.  So much of the bones of the city are still in place and one can only marvel at how magnificent and glorious it must have been.  The marble paved main street falls gently down the hillside passing remnants of, but still clearly discernible, the baths, the Agora (market place), temples, fountains, a particularly beautiful carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory among other things.

The Temple of Hadrian

The public latrines are an example of how society has changed.  Apparently men would meet at the latrines and sit communally discussing politics, life, etc while going about their, not so private, business.

 Houses of the rich Ephesians, from around 1st century AD, are on the slopes above this street.  They are currently being restored by archaeologists and are richly decorated with mosaics and frescoes.

The Celsus Library

At the bottom end of the main street is the spectacular centre piece of Ephesus today, the Celsus Library.  A centre of learning and debate the library contained 12,000 books, written on scrolls, until it was burnt and ruined by the Goths in 265AD.  The front of the library was restored in the 1970s. Across from the Library is the brothel, yes indeed the world's oldest profession!, and further along the road, carved into the marble street, is one of the earliest known advertising signs, an advertisement for, and directions to, the brothel.

The 24,500 seat Grand Theatre

The road  makes a right angle at the library and heads straight towards the vast 24,500 seat Grand Theatre.  This was used for everything from plays and  orchestral music  to gladiator fights with wild animals and is still used today for outdoor concerts.  High on the hill, overlooking Ephesus is the light house where St Paul was reputed to have been imprisoned.

The pillar is all that remains of the Temple of Artemis

A  short bus ride took us to the Temple of Artemis, which I mentioned earlier.  Archaeologists have found remnants dating back to the 8th century BC on the site, however the temple was rebuilt several times after being burned and ransacked on separate occasions. With the rise of Christianity the temple gradually lost its importance and over the centuries its materials were looted as building materials. Sadly, today, there is just one pillar remaining of this colossal wonder of the ancient world.

On a separate day I travelled to the house of the Blessed Virgin.  There is some scepticism that this is the house she lived in, (only the foundations remain) but the fact remains that she lived in this area and recorded historical details all point to it as the location.  Regardless, it is a beautiful, leafy, mountain location and a site of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims alike.  I found it to be a serene and peaceful place.
All that is left of Mary's House

So, there you are, another ruined city, another unique and fascinating place. If you go to Turkey Ephesus is a "must see".  It truly conveys the wonder of these magnificent ancient cities.  It has also whetted my appetite to read up on  the rich and colourful history of the city.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Visit to a Turkish Hamam(bath house) and smoking apple tea.

A trip has to be about experiencing the culture and not just about looking at the sights so there we were, in fear and trembling, stripped down to our knickers in a Turkish Hamam or bath house.  I had been quite looking forward to a good massage after many hours travelling in our mini bus and also a lot of hiking and walking making old muscles ache somewhat.  Others in our group were a little more nervous about the Hamam experience but everybody decided to give it a go.  This was a traditional Hamam, about 600 years old,  located in the centre of the town of Selcuk. 

After stripping down, the first step was to lie on a huge circular marble slab heated by a fire beneath.  We all lay there like spokes in a wheel,  giggling, joking and gently roasting. Great brawny Turkish men, clad only in cotton towels wrapped around their waists, barked orders at us in a no nonsense kind of way. After a long slow roast we were taken one by one to be scrubbed within an inch of our hard I thought my skin would come off.  This was followed by a good dowsing with buckets of cold water.

Waiting for our massage...(I'm 2nd from left)
and the only picture taken in the bath house...for obvious reasons!

We were then wrapped in towels and waited our turn to be smothered in oil and massaged by these powerfully strong men. Written down like that it doesn't sound like a fun activity but I assure you it was well worth it.  We came out sparkling clean, relaxed and all pink and glowing. In fact we all felt marvellous. I would highly recommend a visit to a Hamam while in Turkey but suggest, perhaps, steering clear of the more famous ones which may be a bit touristy.  As we left the Hamam an American couple were passing by.  The woman asked us in an incredulous voice "Did you just go in there?"  We said we had and she put her hand to her chest and said "Oh my!"  We told her it was wonderful and she should try it.  She didn't look convinced.

Our hookah coaches 
I get the hang of it...eventually!

The next evening it was time to hang out in a Turkish restaurant and smoke apple tea through a nargile or hookah.  I have not been a smoker and had never tried a hookah before so this was going to be another  novel experience.
After coaching by two young men who told us they were hookah teachers we set to and had a go.   The air around us was filled with shrieks of laughter as one or other of us forgot to inhale/exhale, whatever, but we finally got to master the technique and eventually sat there like old hands merrily puffing away.  Fortunately this cafĂ© was familiar with tourists who don't know hookah etiquette.

Apparently part of the etiquette is to keep quiet and low key, which we certainly weren't, embarrassingly. I can understand why hookah smoking is popular in Turkey, it is very relaxing.  I have no idea whether this type of smoking is a health hazard but figured that once in a life time is not going to hurt.

Hils puffs away in style.

So there you are, two Turkish cultural activities, both heaps of fun with a feel good factor. If you're going to Turkey make sure you enjoy both.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) - Turkey - Ancient ruins and stunning white silica terraces

  The journey between Dalyan and Pamukkale was scenic and varied, winding through tiny villages, up and over a mountain range and onto a highway through some  mighty impressive road works blasted through great cliffs of rock.  Our lunch stop was at a small rural restaurant, Cinaraltina Kahve, where we ate delicious gozlemi and a lip smacking salad made of only tomato, onion, parsley and olive oil with a squeeze of lemon juice.  I don't know why this salad tasted so good.  It may have been to do with the setting, under a giant plane tree, or, as I suspect, the fact that Turkish cooks have a magic touch. We went on and over another mountain pass and across a vast plain of golden crops and cattle farms framed by a dramatic mountain range beyond. Then through villages with farmhouses bedecked in colourful, tightly packed strands of red capsicums  hanging to dry from every ledge and balcony.  A long, straight downhill road took us through the attractive town of Denizli. With a population of half a million it was the biggest town we had been in since Istanbul and I liked the look of this fresh, bright, modern city, imagining it as pleasant place to live.

Pamukkale - Cotton Mountain from our hotel
 Our destination for the night  was Pamukkale. Pamukkale means "cotton castle",  named for the spectacular  white silica terraces which overlook the village.  New Zealand had similar terraces near Rotorua which were a magnet for overseas tourists in the 19th century. Sadly they were buried in the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. The pink and white terraces of Tarawera have an almost mythological status in New Zealand and I had often wondered what they were like and this was as close as I could get to finding out.  Many of the rooms at our hotel, the Hal-Tur, faced the terraces offering magnificent views of what looked for all the world like a snow covered mountain. It was hard to get my head around the fact that it wasn't snow.  That evening we had a superb 4 course meal beside the hotel swimming pool with a romantic view to the floodlit terraces opposite. 

At Heirapolis

Next morning we visited the ruined Anatolian city of Heirapolis. Dating from the 3rd century BC and now a Unesco world heritage site, the city became famous as a spa with mineral waters believed to cure many diseases.  As a consequence the necropolis, or graveyard, is huge - the curative waters didn't always work! - with some of the best and biggest tombs we have seen. 

Tombs in the vast necropolis at Heirapolis

Theatre with new excavations beyond 

The theatre with seating for 5000 and with panoramic views over the countryside, was built in 129AD for a visit by Hadrian.  It has undergone a lot of restoration but is still a work in progress. Covering a vast area, only a portion of which has been excavated,  the city, at it's height, was home to 100,000 and, during the Roman period, was famous as a centre for the arts, philosophy and trade. The apostle, Philip, lived the later part of his life in Hierapolis and was martyred there in 80AD. The city was ransacked by Persian armies in the 7th century and during its history suffered from several major earthquakes, the final one leading to its abandonment in the 14th century.  There are some marvellous examples of ornate sarcophagi and statuary from the site in the Big Bath Museum located in the ruins of the bath house (2nd century  AD).

Starting the walk down the silica terraces

We spent some time wandering the city before making our way to the modern hot thermal pools at the top of the Pamukkale Travertines, or terraces. The pools were crammed with bathers and holiday makers.  It was suffocatingly claustrophobic so we beat a hasty retreat to begin the downhill walk on the silica terraces.

To preserve the surface all walkers are required to remove their shoes and walk barefoot.  We thought it would be slippery but it wasn't, there was plenty of grip.  It was a good sensation walking in the warm flowing mineral water past terraced pools of bright aqua.... dazzling, surreal and beautiful. Even walking on the terraces it was hard to comprehend that it was not snow. It took us about half an hour from top to bottom but we really didn't want the walk to end.  At the bottom we put our shoes back onto feet, smooth, soft and relaxed from this free spa treatment and boarded our bus for our next destination, Selcuk.

Walking the Pamukkale Travertines

P.S. The Hotel, Tal-Hur, was excellent with eager to please staff and good bathrooms it was one of the better hotels we stayed in in Turkey.