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By Vikki Gibson
We woke to the sounds of the Aegean surf lapping against the rocks below our deck. On the sea, calm and glass-like, a monster of a cruise ship was gliding into the port of Kusadasi. Within the hour it would belch up thousands of tourists. Let’s get out of here and get ahead of the crowds, please! The Charisma Hotel served up a huge, Turkish breakfast and by 8am we were in the van and on our way to a remote excavation site, Aphrodesias.
Originally built to honor the goddess Aphrodite, the city suffered irreparable damage from earthquakes as early as the 4th century. One of the quakes altered the water table so severely that the city flooded in areas. A swamp is still visible today. The hills surrounding Aphrodesias were the source of the beautiful marble used for the construction of the city. The white stone became very popular for sculptors, a school for sculpting was established here and the marble was exported to many parts of the Roman Empire. Numerous statutes and great numbers of sarcophagi are visible around the ruins and in the museum.
As we walked through the partially excavated terrain we received a beginner’s lesson in archeology. We could see the current surface of the ground and then look over a site that was being dug out, and under four feet of dirt and stone, pieces of marble would be buried. Many of these pieces of carved white marble were already unearthed and laying about like huge pieces of broken Lego.
They were identified with metal tags and lined up, waiting for the rest of their counterparts to be unearthed and reassembled like a Lego village. Just a huge puzzle, the parts of which are broken down in to smaller units, some laying on the ground, many buried and who knows how many totally destroyed or carried away for re-purposing at another site over the last 1500 years. Imagine trying to put that puzzle back together!
To see the Temple of Aphrodite and the gate to the city and the odeon, reassembled and standing against the blue sky was an amazing experience. It was so hard to imagine the work that already had been put into this site.
The most amazing structure, however, had not been reassembled. It was still standing, hundreds and hundreds of years later. It was the stadium: measuring 890 feet by 200 feet it was massive and still standing today in a very recognizable form. Thirty rows of seats circled the track, rows of carved marble slabs grey with age and soft and rounded with use, some falling down into the row below and the row below that, but still a most impressive site just sitting in the middle of a large field.
Quiet and inspiring, it drew us to walk around its track and sit on its marble surfaces and contemplate gladiators swords clanging, and horses hooves racing around the track, and athletes marching through the middle of the viewing area, the 30,000 seats filled with screaming spectators! And today it was so quiet, just the pigeons in flight, breaking the silence.
It was a beautiful day and Emre, knowing the route of tourists, guided us through the city, back to front, so to speak. He took us in the opposite direction of the guide book route and we missed the crowds. Kudos, Emre. This site left so much to the imagination, how many more sites like this are beneath the surface of the earth of this ancient country, waiting to be discovered.
And what is amazing is that many, many times, there are layers of archeological wonders in one spot. Cities built above each other, by different cultures, and hundreds of years apart. Layered like a rainbow birthday cake, each layer a different flavor and culture and architecture. Maybe in my next life I would like to be an archeologist, I like challenges!
But time to move on, SO, SO much to see and only a half day left.
Next stop, the ancient city of Hieropolis, hot springs extraordinaire! The modern day location is called Pamukkale, which translates into “cotton castle”. Underground hot springs erupt to spill over the surface of the ground, as the gases evaporate, calcium carbonate is deposited and hardens into glistening white travertine. As the water cascades down the centuries old terraces, new layers of travertine are laid down and new terraces slowly formed.
It is alive and constantly in motion with water dripping over the terrace lips and pooling in the layer below. And the sun glistens off the pools of water and the white travertine and the dripping water, like a hillside of reflective crystals! It is a beautiful site and one visited for centuries by anyone who was anyone.
Cleopatra used to rejuvenate her beautiful self at the ancient spas that were first built here, at Hieropolis, hundreds of years ago. It is an amazing and breathtaking sight, from the top of the terraces looking down the cascading hillside, and from the village of Pamukkale below, looking up into a hillside of white travertine and blue pools.
I visited here on my first visit to Turkey. It has changed in the sense that there is a whole tourist industry now, very apparent and very much developed compared to 1969. But the hillside is the same, very much the “cotton castle”.
In the village, at the base of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, we spent the night at the Hotel Ayapam. Our balcony faced the terraces, what a sight to see first thing in the morning. We were leaving back to Istanbul and there was no doubt that we were sad to see this portion of our trip come to an end. And again, a Euphrates van arrived to pick us up and take us to the airport in Denizli for a flight back to Istanbul. Turkish Airlines efficiently, returned us to Istanbul.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Suleyman of Euprhrates Tours in Urgup, and his remarkable and responsible staff for making this tour THE BEST. I knew that this would be the only chance I had to experience most of these places, I would not be returning. Ramzan and Emre, and the drivers gave us an incredible experience. The drivers whisked us around the countryside and waited patiently while we visited the sites and snapped pictures.
Our guides made the trip! We would have had the visuals, but wouldn’t have known 90% of what we learned from their vast knowledge of the area and its many layered history. Emre really did make Hieopolis and Aphrodesias and Ephesus come alive. Ramzan put faces into the caves of Cappadocia and his descriptions of the lifestyles of the inhabitants took us to another world, another time.
I can’t recommend, enough, the experience of visiting these areas in Turkey. It is such an incredibly diverse country with incredible landscape and millennia of history and beautiful, friendly people. Don’t pass this by, just do it!
And to those of you that aren’t sure if your body can handle the trip, the answer is yes, yes, yes!! I am a 67 year old overweight cancer survivor, plagued with arthritis; Patti, a year older, but she cheats and goes to the gym. If we can do it, SO CAN YOU!
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Vikki Gibson is an RN from Cranbrook, British Columia, Canada who loves cultural travel. She got the idea of blogging about her trip from her son, Matt, who runs the popular adventure travel blog: Matt Gibson’s Adventure Travel Site.