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Ephesus and East

December 26, 2022

The main reason for heading West along the coast was to end up at our most Northern Point – Ephesus. This is the most complete classical metropolis in Europe and was a major city with over 250k inhabitants.

But before reaching Ephesus and its adjacent modern city of Selcuk we had a day of driving from Akyaka. We stopped off at two ancient but very different cities on the way though.

Theatre at Miletus

First up was Miletus which was a harbour city until the bay silted up after the 15th century leaving it over 10km inland and it became abandoned. This city is truly ancient and had been inhabited since it was established by the bronze age Minoans. Most of the large buildings of the city however relate to the Roman occupation from around 100 BC onwards. It was almost empty of tourists as it is off the beaten track, at least at this time of year.

Temple at Miletus

Then we headed up the road to Priene, which is situated in the shadow of Mt Mykale on a wooded plateau.

Temple of Athena at Priene
The columns at Priene are massive

The highlight of Priene is the Temple of Athena with its massive columns which was funded by Alexander the Great. The full temple would have been enormous when all the columns were standing.

Theatre at Priene

Selcuk is the adjacent town to Ephesus and feels like a proper Turkish town untarnished by tourism. Most people visit Ephesus on a coach tour and are bussed in from the coast. We ate in some lovely local restaurants and enjoyed trying some different foods here during our two night stay at the grandly named Ephesus Palace Hotel.

Selcuk also holds the Ephesus museum which has lots of the statues and carvings taken from the site. It is also home to a large castle – Ayasoluk Castle.

Ephesus is just outside the town and is one of the most popular tourist sites in Turkey.  In the summer season there are so many tourists that its difficult to actually see the ruins, fortunately in November there were less tourists and we arrived early before many of the tour groups. Despite this it was still the busiest ancient site that we visited in Turkey.

Library at Ephesus

Ephesus was the capital of Roman Asia Minor and the fourth largest Roman city (after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch). It was a major centre of commerce and remained important even as Christianity took hold with St John supposedly settling here with the Virgin Mary after the death of Jesus and writing his gospel here.

Statue in Ephesus Museum

The city began to decline in the 3rd century AD and was sacked by the Germanic goths and this coupled with earthquakes and the silting up of the harbour hastened the collapse of the city.

The highlight of Ephesus is the Library of Celsus which has been extensively rebuilt and was the third largest library in the ancient world.

Inside Walls of the Houses in Ephesus

For me however the most enjoyable part of the city was in a roofed complex which protects 7 well preserved terraced houses which would have been the homes of aristocratic Romans. The mosaics and painted frescoes are astonishing and give great insight into how ancient buildings were actually decorated.

Frescos in the Houses at Ephesus

After leaving Selcuk we drove East with a planned destination of Pamukkale. However, before getting there we stopped at the city of Aphrodisias which was very impressive and beautifully quiet after the crowds of Ephesus.

Tetrapylon at Aphrodisas (entry to Aphrodite’s Temple)

Aphrodisias is just over 100km east of Ephesus and is another large city that had 150,000 inhabitants in the 3rd Century AD. It was abandoned in the 12th century after having become a Christian Byzantine city from the 7th century.

Sebasteion at Aphrodisias

This site is notable for the three-storey high Sebasteion which was decorated with carvings of Greek myths and imperial notables. This has been partially rebuilt but most of the carvings are actually held in the museum. It would have been an incredibly impressive building.

Carvings from Sebasteion at Aphrodisias

In addition there is a large (270m long) stadium which is one of the biggest and best preserved of the classical stadiums which would have been able to seat up to 30,000 spectators.

Stadium at Aphrodisias

We finally made it to Pamukkale to see the famous Travertines planning only a brief 2 night stay. Unfortunately this was extended to 4 nights after we both fell ill with a stomach bug which happened to be while we were staying in one of the worst hotels of our trip, but that’s just travelling for you.

Travertine Terraces with the ancient city of Hierapolis at the top

Pamukkale is famous for the bright white travertine terraces which tower above the town. At the top of the travertines is the Roman city of Hierapolis.

The town is a ramshackle tourist town that has few charms. The Travertines themselves are sold as one of the highlights of Turkey but the photos of bright blue ponds on the gleaming terraces are old and the natural ponds are currently empty and therefore much less striking. The ponds that exist are man made and lack the beauty of the natural ones and the whole area is a bit disappointing particularly as it gets very busy with tourists from bus tours during the day. It is possible to walk down the travertine terraces from Hierapolis, but you have to walk barefoot to protect the terraces which can be uncomfortable and slippery.

The town of Hierapolis was a Roman spa town and is spread out over a wide area. The central area gets busy with tour groups but they don’t seem to visit much of the city which can be wandered around in relative peace.

Drained Travertine Pools

Laodicea is another city only 8km away from Pamukkale which was a situated across two major trade routes so was a bustling commercial city. It has none of the highlights of some of the more famous sites but is notable for having two theatres – one of which has not been excavated and one of which is in the process of being fully restored.

Street at Laodicea

When we finally felt well enough to move on from Pamukkale we set off to travel further North and East to Cappadocia. This was 2 days driving so we decided to break the journey in Aksehir which is a decidedly untouristy agricultural city in the Turkish interior.

Carvings at Aphrodisias

We stayed in perhaps our favourite hotel (Aksehir Butik Hotel) of the whole trip which was an historic building hidden down a side street in the town. The breakfast we got here was all included in the cost of the room and was definitely the best that we had on the whole trip with breads, cheeses, olives, a chorizo/egg mix, and a selection of pastes and jams.

Breakfast in Akeshir

Aksehir is the supposed burial site of Nasrettin Hodja who is a figure from Muslim folklore. He was a philosopher who was a wise witty man and is the centre of many stories designed to teach or provoke thought. In Aksehir there is an urban park devoted the Hodja with statues depicting various famous stories.

Nasrettin Hodja Statue in Akeshir Urban Park

Miracle of the Turban – a Hodja Story

One day a man brought a letter to the Hodja and said:
Hodja Effendi, please read it to me.,
The Hodja saw that it was written in a foreign language and said:
I cannot read that, it isn’t written in Turkish.
The man became angry:
You are a teacher. You should be ashamed of your turban! You cannot read a letter.
The Hodja put the turban on the head of the man and said:
If the miracle is in the turban, take it and read the letter by yourself.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 26, 2022 11:06 am

    I am so fascinated by Turkey and your posts just make me even more eager to visit. Such amazing ruins and history! I am taking notes for the future (hopefully!!!)

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