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

May 22, 2016 by · 9 Comments 

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.

Ephesus Everlasting: The Ancient City Lives On

May 18, 2016 by · Comments Off on Ephesus Everlasting: The Ancient City Lives On 

In the ancient world, Ephesus was a center of travel and commerce. For one day, the UNESCO World Heritage site was the center of my world.

The marble road leading through Ephesus.

The marble road leading through Ephesus.

Early that morning, Judy, my European traveling buddy, and I met our guide Burcu and driver, Mehmet, arranged through Barefoot Plus Travel. We immediately felt comfortable in their presence. Burcu was knowledgeable about history and culture and very familiar with the ancient site. Mehmet picked us from Kusadasi, the main city in the Anatolia area of Turkey, and drove up a mountain for a quick stop at the House of the Virgin Mary. This small stone house has become a pilgrimage destination.

House of the Virgin Mary

House of the Virgin Mary

Altar inside the House of the Virgin Mary. I took this while standing outside.

Altar inside the House of the Virgin Mary. I took this while standing outside.

Ephesus was originally built in the 10th century BC by the Greeks as commercial seaport due to its strategic location.  Over time, the river and port silted up and the waterways shifted. The Ionian coast now rests several miles away. Under the Roman Empire (1st and 2nd centuries AD) the city continued to prosper. Ephesus became the largest city in the East after Alexandria, with a population of over 200,000.

Ancient City Ruins

Ancient City Ruins

Tours begin at the Magnesian Gate, near the top of a slope. Groups stop at major points of interest as they stroll along, passing the remains of hundreds of columns, statues, and etched drawings. I tried to imagine the bustling white marble city with residents in togas or flowing gowns. Must have been beautiful!

A headless statue

A headless statue

First stop was the thermal baths, originally seven stories high.

Ruins of the thermal waters bathing area.

Ruins of the thermal waters bathing area.

Then, we entered a theater used for council meetings, concerts or speeches. It could seat 1,400 and remains acoustically grand.

The theater could seat 1,400 persons.

The theater could seat 1,400 persons.

Down colonnaded Curetes Street, we viewed the ruins of the Temples of Hadrian and Nike and the elaborate Nymphaeum Traiani Fountain. A near-perfect statue of Artemis was found in this area, but is now displayed in the Ephesus Archeological Museum. (Later, we also visited the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Temple completed around 550 BC, was destroyed in 268 AD. Sadly, all that is left is one lonely column, making me appreciate the splendor of Ephesus.)

Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian Medusa head close-up

Temple of Hadrian Medusa head close-up

The goddess Nike.

The goddess Nike.

 

Finding Artemis

Finding Artemis

Terraced houses belonging to the nobles in the city were under archeological restoration, so we could only view their intricate mosaic floors. An Agora or series of shops followed.

Mosaic floor of a wealthy resident.

Mosaic floor of a wealthy resident.

Ruins of the agora.

Ruins of the agora.

We paused (and giggled) at the men’s public toilet area where Burcu explained that a large fountain was used to cover noise and odors. A brothel also sat in this area.

Men's Toilets

Men’s Toilets

We continued down the marble Colonnade to the majestic two-storied Library of Celsus, the highlight of excavated Ephesus, originally built in 117 AD. The structure stands proudly at the base of the slope including statuary copies of the originals. After extensive archeological work in the 1960-70’s,  many of the finely chiseled columns were re-erected by Austrian archeologists . I was happy they did so because you can feel the grandeur and size of the original building.  In its prime, 12,000 parchment manuscripts and scrolls were kept in the library. Although the niches that contained the parchments were double-lined to prevent humidity or damage, they were tragically lost in a fire.

Approaching the Library of Celsus.

Approaching the Library of Celsus.

Celsus Library-1

A grand marble walkway leads away from the library toward the stadium. Burcu pointed out what she called an ancient advertisement carved in the stone. My photo here shows a foot marking the way to the brothel, indicated by drawings of a woman, a heart and the indentation meaning money was needed.

Ancient advertisement for the brothel. Look closely to see the face of a lady.

Ancient advertisement for the brothel. Look closely to see the face of a lady.

 

To the Stadium.

To the Stadium.

You can almost hear the noise of a crowd as you approach the immense amphitheater or Great Theater.  In Roman times, up to 25,000 people came to watch staged events including gladiator fights. The nearly intact stadium stands in ancient glory, a memorial to all those who died there.

The Grand Theater or Stadium seats 25,000.

The Grand Theater or Stadium seats 25,000.

Inside the massive stadium.

Inside the massive stadium.

Gladiator Entrance

Gladiator Entrance

Training fields and a gymnasium lie beyond the stadium and a cooling tree-covered walkway leads to the exit or lower entrance. Thankfully UNESCO added Ephesus to its World Heritage list in 2015, so it will be maintained and protected.

The Training Fields

The Training Fields

Many cruise ships dock in Kusadasi and bring their guests to the ancient ruins, making Ephesus a popular tourist attraction. Tours last at least an hour and the paths are always crowded, however, Ephesus is enriching, it’s powerful and the memory is everlasting.

Entering Ephesus

Entering Ephesus

Just one column remains from the Temple of Artemis.

Just one column remains from the Temple of Artemis.

*****

Many thanks to  Barefoot Plus Travel for suppling my tour, guide and driver for the day at Ephesus.  I cannot recommend a travel company more highly.  Jill Diskan, who lives in both the US and Turkey, can  answer any and all questions about travel or destinations in Turkey. She is a fountain of knowledge and will make you trip run smoothly.

Captivated by Cappadocia

April 20, 2016 by · Comments Off on Captivated by Cappadocia 

If I was enticed by Istanbul, I was utterly captivated by Cappadocia. Ever since I’d seen a poster of hot air balloons flying over a strange landscape and discovered it was Cappadocia, I wanted to visit. Now, I was on my way.

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

This is Cappadocia.

This is Cappadocia.

If you are visiting Istanbul, Turkey and wish to see Cappadocia, it’s easiest to fly (a drive takes over ten hours). Turkish Airlines will get you there in an hour, but you’ll still need transport to Goreme. Judy and I had the treat of being met by a driver who took us directly to our hotel, thanks to arrangements from Barefoot Plus Travel. This company helped coordinate and timely maneuver us through many parts of Turkey.

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

I peered out the car window and saw snow-capped mountains in the distance, a surprise to me. Who knew you could ski in Turkey? As we drove on, the scenery changed to farmland. About 8-10 minutes before we reached Goreme, the landscape underwent a total transformation.  All of a sudden I felt like a tiny gnome in a field of giant mushrooms. The whimsical high rock formations look like mushroom caps and are called fairy chimneys. The effect is enchanting.

Cave Homes in Cappadocia

Cave Homes in Cappadocia

As we proceeded into Goreme, the rock shapes changed into large domed humps or sharper edged boulders, and many included doors and hollowed out windows.  Now I felt like I’d dropped into Fred and Wilma Flintstone’s neighborhood of cave homes.  There is, in fact, a Flintstone Hotel, but we stayed in a cave hotel named Lalezar.

View from the cave hotel.

View from the cave hotel.

Our cave-like room had white-painted curved rock walls that created a spacious feeling. A double and single bed, plus bathroom, fulfilled our needs, but we had no window. Most of the other rooms included openings, but ours was a less costly choice. You can’t beat $33 per night for lodging, a traditional Turkish breakfast and 24/7 availability of coffee or tea.

Cave Hotel Room

Cave Hotel Room

Within minutes, I ran up the stairs to the top balcony of the hotel and started taking photos. The otherworldly landscape wowed me.

Another view from the cave hotel balcony.

Another view from the cave hotel balcony.

Next morning we were picked up by van for the first of our two small group full-day tours. These tours are the easiest and most convenient way to see what is important in Cappadocia. We began with an hour and a half hike through the Red and Rose Valleys. The walk yielded a feast for the eyes and heyday for photographers. At times, we looked down on towering boulders, pinnacles and pleated folds in the soft volcanic rock that looked like wind-blown sand dunes.  Occasionally, the hike took us down into the bizarre wonderland formed by erosion.

Hiking through the Red Valley

Hiking through the Red Valley

Views from the morning hike.

Views from the morning hike.

Other hikers on our tour.

Other hikers on our tour.

Later in the day, we stopped at a few scenic overlooks, one included cave homes with yellowish streaks caused by sulfur and the other was a castle. Well, the guide called it a castle, but I would say it’s a fortress. The highest rock, Uçhisar Castle, has been a lookout tower for centuries. Due to safety concerns, no climbing is permitted.

Sulfur causes yellow streaks in the rock.

Sulfur causes yellow streaks in the rock.

Uchisar Castle

Uchisar Castle

Lastly, we were taken to an underground city of tunnels, a labyrinth of rooms that extend seven or eight levels into the earth. The volcanic rock is soft enough to carve initially but hardens when exposed to air. The hidden chambers were used by as many as 10,000 residents to hide from invaders.

Underground City Rooms

Underground City Rooms

Underground City

Underground City

Touring the underground

Touring the underground

One must bend over to move within the tunnels, and the floor is uneven but well worth the discomfort. We saw massive rolling-stone doors that were used to prevent invaders from entering. A variety of rooms were used for food storage, pressing grapes, keeping livestock, and smaller family rooms for sleeping and cooking. The clever inhabitants dug deep wells and shafts or chimneys for ventilations. They also built churches. Sometimes hiding in these underground cities was necessary for months at a time until it was safe for the villagers to return outside.

The Entrance Door or Rolling Stone.

The Entrance Door or Rolling Stone.

On the second day of our tours, we started at the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984 and an outstanding one in my opinion.  Here, we entered exquisite frescoed rock churches in varying degrees of preservation. Most of these chapels belong to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.

Grounds of Open Air Museum

Grounds of Open Air Museum

Goreme Open Air Museum

Goreme Open Air Museum

Up and down many stairs.

Up and down many stairs.

I photographed one while standing outside, but otherwise no interior photos are allowed.  We paid a small extra charge to enter the Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise)and by all means don’t miss it. This astonishing rock church surrounds and embraced me with a force I’ve rarely felt. The frescoes are in mint condition, colorful, captivating, and emotional in detail. The interior is arranged like a modern church with an aisle, apse, and side chapels.

Rock Church Exterior

Rock Church Exterior

The Dark Church

The Dark Church

We also stopped in nearby Avanos at a pottery firm where we met the famed artisan, Galip Korukcu, often called Einstein. He has been the creative genius behind decorative pottery in this area for decades.  We watched him throw a pot using a foot-powered potters wheel and also observed some of his students drawing and painting designs on raw pottery.

Einstein at work

Einstein at work

In one particular room, we were mesmerized by Galip’s glow in the dark works that sound funky but are actually gorgeous. Had I money in my budget, I would have purchased a plate to hang in my home.

Pretty Pottery Plates

Pretty Pottery Plates

 

The Red Valley

The Red Valley

Over two days, we climbed up and down hundreds of stairs and tromped many miles through a variety of treasures within Cappadocia. The landscape is like no other, but the place is one I can wholeheartedly recommend to curious travelers and photographers. Hikers and bikers love the region because there are many open trails for them to explore. We, however, saved the best for last, an exciting adventure that most tourists to the area splurge for — a hot air balloon ride.

Use your imagination...a camel?

Use your imagination…a camel?

IMG_7590 IMG_7602

Please return to bylandersea.com to see those photos of our hot air balloon ride.

All photo copyright Debi Lander@bylandersea.com

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