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Aphrodisias and Pamukkale: From a Lost City to a Cotton Castle

May 22, 2016 by  

Aphrodisias is not the most visited archaeological site in Turkey because it lies off the beaten track, a three-hour drive from cruise port Kusadasi or tourist-centric Ephesus. Luckily, my friend and fellow travel writer, Judy Wells clued me in and encouraged a visit to Aphrodisias. To get there, my travel buddy, Judy Shulman and I hired Barefoot Plus Travel to organize a day trip with a car, driver and guide. We also requested a stop at the picturesque white mountain/thermal waters at Pamukkale.

Welcome sign at the gate.

Welcome sign at the gate.

Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. It was dedicated to the ancient Mother Goddess and then the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of nature, beauty and love.  A magnificent Temple of Aphrodite was constructed to honor her. Later, it was transformed into a Christian basilica by moving some of the columns. Aphrodisias is also known for its renowned school of marble sculpture, at its prominence between the years 1 BC and 6 AD.

Columns from the Temple of Aphrodite.

Columns from the Temple of Aphrodite.

Marble statue now housed in the museum.

Marble statue now housed in the museum.

Today, a visitor finds ancient ruins similar to those at popular Ephesus, but Aphrodisias enchants with a more beautiful and spread out town plan. Plus, the UNESCO World Heritage site includes an on-site museum making a complete one-stop tour. Best of all, there are far fewer guests along the pathways.  You’ll find the partially restored Temple of Aphrodite along with the remains of a large theater, a stadium, baths, agora and impressive, but restored gateway.

Sarcophagus near the entrance.

Sarcophagus near the entrance.

For me, the most fascinating and memorable details about Aphrodisias came from the story of its rediscovery. Aphrodisias owed much of its fame to its school of sculpture, and although artful works were sent by ship to Italy, the sculptors still reserved their finest products for their own city.

Beautiful day at Aphrodisias ruins.

Beautiful day at Aphrodisias ruins.

Earthquakes destroyed the city walls in the 7th century, and they were never repaired. Over time, the theater filled with earth, acquiring the look of a natural, untouched mound. Some marble columns stuck out of the ground, but when viewed from a distance, they merged with the tree trunks surrounding them.

The Sports Stadium

The Sports Stadium

Sports Stadium

Sports Stadium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paraphrased from Turizm.net:

 

A remote village by the name of Geyre grew up over and around the ruins. In 1956, the region was again shaken by an earthquake that destroyed more than half of the village. When digging  a new water trench, the residents turned up some exquisite marble carvings and reliefs. These finds led to an onslaught of archaeologists who succeeded in persuading the villagers to choose a different water route but, in spite of the archaeological interest, they merely erected a wire fence around the ruins and departed.

 

Aphrodisias entered a sleepy rest period, known mostly by the locals.

Guler photo of farmhouse with columns.

Guler photo of farmhouse with columns.

Two years later, the famous photographer and traveler Ara Güler arrived in the nearby town.  “Chance took me to Geyre,” he says, “I had never heard of the place in my life and when I saw it, I really couldn’t believe my eyes. Exquisite columns standing there, Statues of breathtaking beauty. Columns lying around on the ground – some of them used to prop up the precarious walls of village houses that seemed ready to collapse at any moment. One beautifully carved sarcophagus lid was being used as the trough of a village fountain. On another villagers were playing cards. I had never seen such an interesting place. I rushed off to get my camera and took a whole pile of photographs.”

 

The story continues saying Güler later sent the pictures to his agent in Paris, who sent them to Horizon. The magazine requested more, and Güler went back to Geyre.

Guler photo of residents among the ruins.

Guler photo of residents among the ruins.

He asked for assistance from the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and they recommended Kenan Erim, an American of Turkish origin who was then Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of New York. Kenan Erim had never visited Aphrodisias, but he knew about it. Ever since his student days in Princeton he had dreamed of Aphrodisias. After an initial visit in 1959, he returned in 1961 to begin excavation work with financial assistance from the National Geographic. This excavation work occupied the rest of his life, further assisted by various institutions such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Vincent Astor Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.

 

Here’s the best part: Fortune shone on Kenan Erim from the very first days. The trench dug by the peasants five years previously revealed remains of the city defense walls and towers as well as the head of a goddess. With this head in his hand, Kenan Erim went straight to the hut containing the statues unearthed by the few archaeologists who had dug there fifty years before, and here he succeeded in finding the torso to which the head belonged– an exact fit. Wondrously, it was as if this statue, created 1,700 years ago, had come back to life.

The statue of Aphrodite

The statue of Aphrodite

Our guide Burcu peeked my interest when she us told the story during our drive. Once onsite, she led us a more extensive tour than the typical groups receive. We were fascinated by the sculpture workshop area. Excavations here in the 1960s uncovered 25 half-finished statues and practice pieces carved by apprentices. We delighted in the sculptured “people scrolls” displayed on a wall, and it was fun to compare the faces and various styles of carving.

People Scrolls

People Scrolls

People Scrolls

People Scrolls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The landscape was dotted with yellow flowers that added to the beauty of the ruins. We walked a large circular route around the grounds and into the huge sports amphitheater. We saw the Tetrapylon near the end of our tour. The Tetrapylon is a gateway that greeted pilgrims when they approached the Temple of Aphrodite. It’s a lovely 2nd-century gateway with four groups of four Corinthian columns (from which it gets its name). It was extensively repaired and re-erected in 1990.

Front of the four-columned gate or Tetrapylon.

Front of the four-columned gate or Tetrapylon.

The Tetrapylon at Aphrodisias.

The Tetrapylon at Aphrodisias.

Tetrapylon marble details.

Tetrapylon marble details.

The Tetrapylon

The Tetrapylon

I especially enjoyed seeing copies of the Guler photographs and wished I’d had more time for the exquisite statuary in the museum. Definitely two-thumbs up for Aphrodisias.

Temple of Aphrodite

Temple of Aphrodite

After a lunch break, we took off for Pamukkale known for the mineral-rich thermal waters that flow down white travertine terraces on a hillside. I hadn’t expected Pamukkale to abut Hierapolis; an ancient Roman spa city founded around 190 B.C. The joint site of Hierapolis-Pamukkale was made a World Heritage Site in 1988.

The ruins of Hieropolis

The ruins of Hieropolis

Cotton or Terraced Lake at Pamukkale.

Cotton Lakes or Terraced Lakes at Pamukkale.

Pamukkale’s gleaming white calcite shelves overrun with warm, mineral-rich waters to form the so-called ‘Cotton Castle’ (Pamuk means ‘cotton’ in Turkish). The solution of calcium carbonate in the spring water decomposes into carbon dioxide, calcium carbonate, and water. The carbon dioxide is released into the air while the calcium carbonate separates off from the water to form grayish-white limestone sediment.

Cascading basins of water at Pamukkale.

Cascading basins of water at Pamukkale.

Stalactites form near the basin edges.

Stalactites form near the basin edges.

I photographed some of the roped off areas but was disappointed that I couldn’t get closer. Then, Judy and I took off our shoes and waded in the soft, warm creamy water. My skin felt soft when we got out.

Judy and Debi wading at Pamukkale.

Judy and Debi wading at Pamukkale.

Like all tourist havens, Pamukkale attracts busload after busload of tourists by day, but becomes much less crowded by late afternoon. Visitors can swim in a spa pool with thermal waters and fragments of columns, but it is costly.  Others take boat rides in the lake below.

Cotton Castle

The Cotton Castle

Swimming in the pool

Swimming in the pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our day was already too long for such an option. Thankfully we had a driver to make the three- hour return trip to our hotel in Sirince, near Kusadasi.

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Comments

9 Responses to “Aphrodisias and Pamukkale: From a Lost City to a Cotton Castle”

  1. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go on May 23rd, 2016 2:40 am

    Off-the-beaten-path ancient sites without the busloads of tourists are my kind of places. Kind of makes you feel as though you’d discovered the place yourself! I loved comparing the old photos with your new ones and hearing the story of how the ancient ruins of Aphrodisias gradually became a part of the newer villages. Fascinating!

  2. Karen Warren on May 23rd, 2016 6:33 am

    You can really see the value of getting off the beaten track. You don’t often get such a complete and fascinating site as Aphrodisias without sharing it with coachloads of other tourists!

  3. Judy Wells on May 23rd, 2016 8:48 am

    Wow. There is so much more since I was in Aphrodesius in 1975. and even then it was my favorite ancient site in Turkey. There was no museum yet, much less the history but a remarkable beauty nonetheless. Did you see the purple and white marble odeon? My fave. Obviously need to go back. Glad ypu took my advice and weren’t disappointed..

  4. Grey World Nomads on May 25th, 2016 8:15 am

    An awesome article combined the past and the present. You’ve done a very interesting trip to Aphrodesius and Pamukkale which we’d love to do ourselves, too. The only Lost City I’ve visited is in Colombia 😉

  5. Michele Peterson on May 25th, 2016 2:13 pm

    Aphrodisias looks stunning. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it! Thanks for this post. I’m pinning for my next trip to Turkey

  6. Debi Lander on May 25th, 2016 2:42 pm

    Thanks for reading. I’m sure you will love Aphrodisias.

  7. Suzanne Fluhr on May 26th, 2016 2:02 pm

    I get goosebumps thinking about the ancient sites that must lie all around the ancient world. For example, looking at the extensive site at Ephesus today, it’s hard to imagine that it had to be rediscovered. We also visited Pamukkale. I thought the main attraction there would be the white travertine. I didn’t even know about Hierolpolis before we went, also an extensive excavation. Thanks for sharing what you learned. I think we need to return to Turkey.

  8. Debi Lander on May 27th, 2016 12:45 am

    Thanks Suzanne. Turkey was full of surprises and delights. I hope to return someday.

  9. Elaine J Masters on May 29th, 2016 3:31 pm

    Just love all the discoveries here. I’ve heard of the hot springs and will remember to visit in the afternoon, if possible. A fascinating place and history. Thanks for the detailed write up and excellent pictures. I’m inspired to visit.

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