Ephesus and Pamukkale/Hieropolis

Pamukkale travertine terraces

After having spent Friday cleaning and washing my room and bedding, and purchasing insect traps for placement in every corner, this past weekend was spent on a whirlwind bus tour of Ephesus, Pamukkale and Hieropolis, about 200 km north of Bodrum. At 5:30 Saturday morning I was waiting curbside for the Director Tour pickup (they advertise door to door service, so even though my door is 45 minutes from theirs, they will still pick up, for this tour anyway). As the minutes ticked away, and my pickup time of 5:45 came and went with no sign of the minibus, I started to get a bit concerned that they’d forgotten me. However, just as I was about to give up in frustration, the driver pulled up and on I hopped. We met the rest of the group at the bus exchange north of Bodrum and set off on a larger midibus for Ephesus. We stopped on the way for a fairly lame breakfast at a gas station diner and for a coffee and pee break at the Sultan restaurant just outside Ephesus, arriving at the ancient site about 11 am.

Already it was hot – about 36 degrees – and sunny; vendors were having brisk sales of umbrellas and hats, but I amazingly had remembered to bring mine. Our group consisted of two busloads of people, ours, with half French and half English folk, and a guide for each linguistic group, and a smaller minibus full of Dutch speakers. The English guide, Erdem, was a university student and did quite a good job of giving us information about the site. His tour took about 2 and a half hours, and we saw the main structures along the marble high road leading from the entrance gate down towards what would once have been the harbour and along past the theatre to the exit gate: two sets of Roman baths, the Odeon, a nymphaem (ornamental fountain), Domitian basilica and square, terrace houses, temple of Hadrian, latrines, Curetes Street, Celsus Library, Gate of Mazeus, brothel, and theatre.

Apparently only about 20 percent of Ephesus has actually been excavated, so what we saw was the main nerve centre of the ancient city. There were some beautiful reliefs carved on the stones; particularly nice were the several reliefs of Medusa executed on archways above the fountain and on the top edge of the library. Roman engineers were masters at waterworks and the latrines were quite interesting, many keyhole shaped openings in long marble benches, without partitions, where up to 30 or 40 people could have sat at once and done their business while conducting business. This particular latrine was for the wealthy and prominent – a long trough in front of the seats held continuously flowing water with which slaves would have cleaned their masters’ privates using long sticks tipped with cloth … We also saw the waterworks of the Scholastica baths, named after a prominent citizen who paid for them; the sauna and tepidarium were heated using rocks roasted in fires then tossed into water which ran in stone channels beneath the stone and marble floors. Another interesting little item, for me, was the sign advertising the brothel. This consisted of a marble stone, set at the side of the road running from the theatre to the library, with a man’s footprint, a line drawing of a woman’s head and a purse with coins, all etched into the surface of the stone. Apparently a tunnel ran from underneath the centre of the library out to the brothel on the hill opposite.

The library and arch of Mazeus were beautiful with gorgeous relief carvings and pillars; using an optical illusion technique in which the pillars get slimmer as they get higher, the builders made the library look particularly impressive. In the theatre, with seating for 25,000, a group of New Zealand pilgrims following in the footsteps of St Paul (who preached to the Ephesians in this theatre) sang gospel songs and waved flags from the stage.

Like Kaunos in Dalyan, Ephesus was located on the sea in ancient times; now the sea is 8 kilometers away. The silting up of the harbour, along with malaria, caused the city to be abandoned in the 5th century ad.

I enjoyed seeing Ephesus but was it ever hot, so hot that our guide was using an umbrella. I can’t imagine visiting here in July or August when it gets up to 50 degrees and there’s no shade to speak of. Our group tried to find any little speck of shade in which to huddle as we moved through the site. Many small pockets of shade under rocks and pillars were already occupied by cats. While there were many beautiful artifacts, I did not find this place nearly as beautiful as either Kaunos or Patara, both of which I found stunning. While the ocean can be seen from those places, here the surrounding countryside is quite barren.

Read more about Ephesus here.

After leaving Ephesus we had the obligatory factory outlet visits, apparently a must on all Turkish tours, stopping at a Turkish delight store and a jewellery factory. I find these visits to be incredibly painful. The places are always enormous, with vast quantities of wares for sale, and vast numbers of sales people trying to corner hapless tourists and guilt them into buying something, anything. Sometimes the items for sale are nice but they are always overpriced and it is almost impossible to find one’s way out – the stores are set up like labyrinths; the entrance doors are big and the exits small and hidden, only accessible after having walked for miles through many rooms of stuff. In both places I managed to make my escape without buying anything. We rolled into our hotel in Pamukkale about 7 in the evening and I immediately went for a swim in the large outdoor pool, and had a sauna and another swim in one of the smaller indoor pools.

The next morning we headed off to Pamukkale (“Cotton Castle”); here calcium oxide-rich waters flowing down the southern slope of Caldag located north of the ruins of Hieropolis have, over the millennia, built up deposits of white travertine on the plateau, creating a landscape that looks remarkably like ice and snow. Calcium salts deposited on the hillside have hardened to form saucer-shaped white pools of varying dimensions, through which 35 degree water flows down the cliffs. From below, the Pamukkale cliffs look like a white mountain with a small fringe of dark trees along the top edge. Below is a lake of gorgeous white-blue water and an unfilled swimming pool; surrounding the site are many large hotels, like ours, with large swimming pools that, while beautiful, are lowering the water table and draining the water away from Pamukkale’s travertine pools.

We drove up and around the cliffs and entered the ancient site of Hieropolis, a Roman subject city named after the wife of King Telephos, the legendary founder of Pergamon. The city became subject to Rome in 133 BC and in 17 BC. during the reign of Tiberius, it suffered a heavy earthquake that substantially destroyed the city, requiring it to be rebuilt. The site is basically divided into two areas, the travertine pools and cliffs, and the ruins in the hills above. The theatre, seating 15,000, is beautiful and has a tremendous view out over the Taurus mountains and valley below. After spending some time sitting there, I walked past the small path leading up into the hills to St Phillip’s martyrium, and cut across a field of very tall waving grasses and wildflowers to get to the North necropolis. As I was making my way through the flowers, a large tortoise and I came nose to nose, at which he immediately withdrew his tiny head in alarm as I stepped over him carefully. From the hills above the ruin site several paragliders floated gently down.

The huge necropolis of Hierapolis, the largest ancient graveyard in Anatolia with more than 1200 tombs, spreads out on either side of the road for a distance of two kilometers. It contains tumuli, sarcophagi, and house-shaped tombs that range in date from the late Hellenistic period to early Christian times. It is one of the most extensive and best preserved ancient cemeteries in Anatolia. Some of the graves are huge, like the temples to the dead one can see in Renaissance Italian graveyards, having several tiers of stone benches on which to lay the bodies. One temple-like tomb sits embedded halfway down in calcium deposits, looking just like a cabin in a snowy field. I enjoyed wandering through this site, with its beautiful flowers and the breeze blowing from the valley. I found it much more pleasant than Ephesus.

Our meeting point was the ancient pool of Cleopatra, a swimming area in which one can sit on ancient columns or stones resting in the thermal water. The water itself is supposed to have healing properties because of its many minerals and the pool is nicely landscaped with many rose bushes and oleander plants surrounding it. However, all of that did not justify the charge of 25 Turkish lira to bathe in it so I gave it a pass. After a buffet lunch at a restaurant below the cliffs, a visit to an onyx factory and a wine farm, with the accompanying hard sell, and a stop at Deer canyon, the highest point in the mountains between Denizli and Bodrum, I arrived back finally in Gumusluk at 9 pm Sunday night, well satisfied with the weekend.

See pictures here.