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Climbing, Caving, and Canceled Ballooning in Turkey, pt. 3: Izmir Province

The final leg of our tour of Turkey, exploring Izmir Province

In my last post we had been traveling around the Cappadocia region of Turkey, looking at old volcanic rock formations, exploring caves and underground cities, but missing out on the chance to go hot-air ballooning. Now we were going to wrap up our Turkish holiday by venturing around Izmir Province, an area surrounded by the Aegean Sea in the country’s west. Bear in mind that these events occured more than two months ago, thus I can’t really remember much from the trip anymore, however, from looking at our travel itinerary, going through the photos we took, and consulting Wikipedia as always, I should be able to put together a reasonably coherent account of this final leg of our adventure, but it won’t really be as much of a personal recollection. Again, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of pictures!

Thursday, September 27, 2018
We had flown in from Kayseri to the city of Izmir, the capital of Izmir Province, the previous night and it was quite late by the time we got to our hotel in the resort town of Kuşadası, just enough time to grab a bite to eat and a drink or two before we had to hit the hay in preparation for the following day, which was rather packed.

First on the agenda that morning was a trip to Ephesus, also commonly referred to as Ephesos or Efes, where we would be spending several hours walking in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Marcus Cicero, and the Apostles Paul and John among others. Again, I’m not a religious person, but this could make for an interesting morning. Our guide was waiting for us at the hotel at 9:30 that morning and before long we were in Ephesus:

Ephesos was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, three kilometres southwest of present-day Selçuk in İzmir Province, Turkey. It was built in the 10th century BC on the site of the former Arzawan capital by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. During the Classical Greek era it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. The city flourished after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC.

The city was famed for the nearby Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Among many other monumental buildings are the Library of Celsus, and a theatre capable of holding 25,000 spectators.

Ephesos was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation. The Gospel of John may have been written here. The city was the site of several 5th-century Christian Councils.

The city was destroyed by the Goths in 263, and although rebuilt, the city’s importance as a commercial centre declined as the harbour was slowly silted up by the Küçükmenderes River. It was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614 AD.

As like our time in Istanbul, we had a personal guide whose name neither of us can remember, however, he was an absolute wealth of knowledge on what we were seeing, to the point where there was simply too much information to take in.
The first site we would be visiting in Ephesus would be the House of the Virgin Mary, both a Catholic and Muslim shrine:

The house was discovered in the 19th century by following the descriptions in the reported visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774–1824), a Roman Catholic nun and visionary, which were published as a book by Clemens Brentano after her death. While the Catholic Church has never pronounced in favour or against the authenticity of the house, it nevertheless has maintained a steady flow of pilgrimage since its discovery. Anne Catherine Emmerich was Beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 3, 2004.

Catholic pilgrims visit the house based on the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was taken to this stone house by Saint John and lived there for the remainder of her earthly life.

The shrine has merited several papal Apostolic Blessings and visits from several popes, the earliest pilgrimage coming from Pope Leo XIII in 1896, and the most recent in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI.

I find it more than a little ironic that this post is 666 words long at the end of that Wikipedia extract. Anyway, the House of the Virgin Mary now serves as a chapel and the site has a “wishing wall” where pilgrims to the house tie pieces of fabric. Also nearby is a well that is believed to have magical healing and fertility properties. I don’t believe in this type of nonsense, but I could always do with some healing to many parts of my body, however, I wasn’t willing to risk it just in case the believers are correct, because then there’s that whole ‘fertility’ thing. I’ll take occasional illness and pain over being a parent any day. I also found it a little strange that there is a recreation of the birth of Christ in the manger at the house when this is not where he is believed to have been born, but where his mother spent her latter years. It’s kind of similar to putting your mother in a retirement home in the UK and installing a catwalk in the home after her death, complete with a statue of her as a 20-year old, posing out, because she was a fashion model in Italy in her earlier years. It doesn’t really make sense if that part of her life never occurred in that particular location, let alone country.
Nevertheless, let’s take a look around, although photos weren’t permitted inside:

After we finished looking around the House of the Virgin Mary we then went and walked around the streets and ruins, particularly those on the way to Harbour Street, the main hub of ancient Ephesus. Due to a combination of ancient and subsequent deforestation, overgrazing by herds of goats, erosion, and soil degradation, Harbour Street is now 3-4 km (1.8-2.5 miles) away from the coastline, the muddy remains of the ancient harbour still visible. Walking along the streets gives one a decent idea of the original beauty of the city:

If the ruins show the original splendour of the streets, then the remains of frescoes and terrace houses offer a look into how the wealthy lived during Roman times. Sure, we saw the mosaics and frescoes of houses and churches in Cappadocia in my previous post, but during the Roman period, Ephesus was the place to be. In 27 BC, the city became the capital of proconsular Asia, entering an era of prosperity and becoming both the seat of the governor and a major centre of commerce, second in both importance and size only to Rome so the truly wealthy wanted to live a life of luxury and style. These photos from an excavation site, some of which has been restored, some not, show how that was done:

We still had a couple more impressive sites to see in Ephesus, the first being the Library of Celsus:

The Library of Celsus is an ancient Roman building in Ephesus, Anatolia, now part of Selçuk, Turkey. It was built in honour of the Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, completed between circa 114–117 A.D. by Celsus’ son, Gaius Julius Aquila (consul, 110 AD). The library was “one of the most impressive buildings in the Roman Empire” and built to store 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a mausoleum for Celsus, who is buried in a crypt beneath the library in a decorated marble sarcophagus. The Library of Celsus was the “third-largest library in the ancient world” behind both Alexandria and Pergamum.

The interior of the library was destroyed, supposedly by an earthquake in 262 A.D., (though other evidence points to a fire during a Gothic invasion in that same year) and the façade by another earthquake in the tenth or eleventh century A.D. It lay in ruins for centuries, until the façade was re-erected (anastylosis) by archaeologists between 1970 and 1978.

We weren’t going to get to see Celsus’ marble sarcophagus, but we weren’t left disappointed with what we did witness:

The final tourist attraction we’d be visiting in Ephesus was the Great Theatre. According to the details on a sign at the site, “The Great Theatre goes back to a preceding structure of the Hellenistic period (3rd-1st century BC). In the Roman period there was an extensive rebuilding under the Emperors Domitian (AD 81-96) and Trajan (AD 98-117) with at first a two-, later three-storeyed impressive façade. In addition to the theatre performances, assemblies also took place there; in the later imperial period, gladiatorial contests are also attested. Before the 7th century the Theatre was incorporated into the Byzantine city walls.”

I could post a ton of pictures that I took at the Great Theatre, but you really only need to see one, this panoramic shot I got of the stage from the top row of accessible seats:


After all of that walking around Ephesus in the morning it was finally time for lunch… Or so we thought, but first we would be stopping by a shop owned by a friend of a friend of our guide, as is often the case, this time a leather goods one. Anna and myself were ushered into a private room with a catwalk and soon we were treated to a leather fashion show before being taken into the store. It was kind of difficult to not laugh while the models were strutting because the whole situation was not only absurd and completely unexpected, but also because it wasn’t applicable to us; we live in Singapore, an equatorial country with no seasons besides the monsoon. The temperature on an average day in Singapore is usually between 31-33°C (89-91.5°F), a particularly cool night getting down to around 25°C (77°F), and the average annual humidity is 83.4%, sometimes reaching 100% when it is raining. Wearing leather pants in those conditions would chafe the entire lower half of your body raw after about two minutes, and during a thunderstorm it already feels like you’re trapped in a sauna while people urinate on you so I don’t think a leather raincoat is the solution.
Anyway, I bought a much-needed new wallet from the store and then we had lunch before hitting up our next site for the day, the Temple of Artemis:

The Temple of Artemis or Artemision, also known less precisely as the Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to an ancient, local form of the goddess Artemis. It was located in Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey). It was completely rebuilt three times, and in its final form was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. By 401 AD it had been ruined or destroyed. Only foundations and fragments of the last temple remain at the site.

The earliest version of the temple (a temenos) antedated the Ionic immigration by many years, and dates to the Bronze Age. Callimachus, in his Hymn to Artemis, attributed it to the Amazons. In the 7th century BC, it was destroyed by a flood. Its reconstruction, in more grandiose form, began around 550 BC, under the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes. The project was funded by Croesus of Lydia, and took 10 years to complete. This version of the temple was destroyed in 356 BC by Herostratus in an act of arson. The next, greatest and last form of the temple, funded by the Ephesians themselves, is described in Antipater of Sidon’s list of the world’s Seven Wonders:

‘I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.”‘

Well, the Temple of Artemis may not be quite so brilliant today as it was 2,500 years ago, but it was still worth a look. Here’s how the site where the temple once stood, including the tomb of John the Apostle, the roped off square with the four pillars, appears today (plus a shot of our spontaneous, private, leather fashion parade):

Our day of visiting ruins may have come to an end, but we weren’t done with exploring, not by a long shot. We were going to be spending the night in Kuşadası again and this time we had plenty of time to look around. Also, I had to seek out an item; since I was in Turkey, I had decided that I wanted to buy a fez, but I wanted a proper one, not some Turkish souvenir fez that says ‘I ♥ Turkey’ or something similar that I had really only seen thus far. If you are unsure what a fez is, it is one of those short, cylindrical, peakless, felt hats that are usually red with a tassel hanging down the side as sometimes worn by Grandpa Simpson and always worn by Tommy Cooper, incidentally one of the only comedians to ever die on live television (I’m not kidding, only click that link if you’re prepared to see a clip of a man having a heart attack in front of an audience who continued to laugh, thinking it was part of the show).
We wandered around Kuşadası for a few hours, absolutely gobsmacked by the insane array of counterfeit goods openly available, as well as the terrible, terrible haircuts you could get in this beautiful seaside town. I found my fez, we found a bar for a few beers, and then when it was time we found a place for dinner and another bar to settle down in for the night.
A look around Kuşadası:

Friday, September 28, 2018
Our final day in Turkey was upon us so we had to make it count, however, it wouldn’t be quite as packed as our previous days in Turkey because we had to catch a flight back to Istanbul at 7:30pm.
There was going to be a lot of driving involved in the day’s activities so we hit the road and eventually stopped in at a kind of roadside diner-type thing that also sold some weird souvenirs, including the aforementioned ‘I ♥ Turkey’ fez, and feasted on what essentially amounted to Turkish truck-stop food before eventually landing at Laodicea on the Lycus:

Laodicea on the Lycus was an ancient city built on the river Lycus (Çürüksu). It was located in the Hellenistic regions of Caria and Lydia, which later became the Roman Province of Phrygia Pacatiana. It is now situated near the modern city of Denizli. In 2013 the archaeological site was inscribed in the Tentative list of World Heritage Sites in Turkey.

It contained one of the Seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

Well, if this joint contains a church from the only remotely interesting book of the Bible, yes, the one about the end of the world, then this could be pretty cool. But what is still there now? More ruins, of course!:

The existing remains attest to its former greatness. The ruins near Denizli (Denisli) are well preserved and as of 2012 are being substantially renovated. Its many buildings include a stadium, baths, temples, a gymnasium, theatres, and a bouleuterion (Senate House). On the eastern side, the line of the ancient wall may be distinctly traced, with the remains of the Ephesus gate; there are streets traversing the town, flanked by colonnades and numerous pedestals. North of the town, towards the Lycus, are many sarcophagi, with their covers lying near them, partly imbedded in the ground, and all having been long since rifled.

Particularly interesting are the remains of an aqueduct starting several kilometres away at the Baspinar spring in Denizli, and possibly having another more distant source. Unusually, to cross the valley to the south of Laodicea, instead of the usual open channel carried above the level of the city on lofty arches as was the usual practice of the Romans, an inverted siphon was employed consisting of a double pressurised pipeline, descending into the valley and back up to the city. The low arches supporting the siphon commence near the summit of a low hill to the south where the header tank was located, and thence continue to the first terminal distribution tank (castellum aquae) at the edge of the hill of the city, whose remains are visible to the east of the stadium and South Baths complex. The water was heavily charged with calcareous matter, as several of the arches are covered with a thick incrustation where leaks occurred at later times. The siphon consisted of large carved stone pipes; some of these also are much incrusted, and some completely choked up. The terminal tank has many clay pipes of various diameters for water distribution on the north, east and south sides which, because of the choking by sinter, were replaced in time. To the west of the terminal is a small fountain next to the vaulted gate. The aqueduct appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake, as the remaining arches lean bodily on one side, without being much broken. A second distribution terminal and sedimentation tank is visible 400 metres (1,300 ft) north of the first, to which it was connected via another siphon of travertine blocks, and this one is bigger and supplied most of the city.

The stadium, which is in a good state of preservation, is near the southern extremity of the city. The seats are arranged along two sides of a narrow valley, which appears to have been taken advantage of for this purpose, and to have been closed up at both ends. Towards the west are considerable remains of a subterranean passage, by which chariots and horses were admitted into the arena, with a long inscription over the entrance. The city ruins bear the stamp of Roman extravagance and luxury, rather than of the stern and massive solidity of the Greeks. Strabo attributes the celebrity of the place to the fertility of the soil and the wealth of some of its inhabitants: amongst whom Hiero, having adorned the city with many beautiful buildings, bequeathed to it more than 2000 talents at his death.

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s take a look around this apocalyptic pile of stones and rubble, as well as some of the stranger souvenirs from our truck-stop. As we had to take in so much information when getting shown around, I can’t remember what any of it is now, but the above information might be able to help you piece it together:

Our final stop on our epic trek around Turkey was going to be another UNESCO World Heritage site, Pamukkale, in order to unwind and take in some natural beauty before we leave the country:

Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, is a natural site in Denizli in southwestern Turkey. The area is famous for a carbonate mineral left by the flowing water. It is located in Turkey’s Inner Aegean region, in the River Menderes valley, which has a temperate climate for most of the year.

The ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis was built on top of the white “castle” which is in total about 2,700 metres (8,860 ft) long, 600 m (1,970 ft) wide and 160 m (525 ft) high. It can be seen from the hills on the opposite side of the valley in the town of Denizli, 20 km away.

Known as Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) or ancient Hierapolis (Holy City), this area has been drawing the weary to its thermal springs since the time of Classical antiquity. The Turkish name refers to the surface of the shimmering, snow-white limestone, shaped over millennia by calcium-rich springs. Dripping slowly down the vast mountainside, mineral-rich waters foam and collect in terraces, spilling over cascades of stalactites into milky pools below. Legend has it that the formations are solidified cotton (the area’s principal crop) that giants left out to dry.

Tourism is and has been a major industry in the area for thousands of years, due to the attraction of the thermal pools. As recently as the mid-20th century, hotels were built over the ruins of Hierapolis, causing considerable damage. An approach road was built from the valley over the terraces, and motor bikes were allowed to go up and down the slopes. When the area was declared a World Heritage Site, the hotels were demolished and the road removed and replaced with artificial pools.

Overshadowed by natural wonder, Pamukkale’s well-preserved Roman ruins and museum have been remarkably underestimated and unadvertised; tourist brochures over the past 20 years have mainly featured photos of people bathing in the calcium pools. Aside from a small footpath running up the mountain face, the terraces are all currently off-limits, having suffered erosion and water pollution at the feet of tourists.

After our hectic travel schedule over the previous few weeks that had left us beyond a little stressed and jet-lagged, not to mention the crazy amount of walking and hiking we had done on little sleep while in Turkey, it was hard to imagine a better location to wind this trip up than a hot spring. We weren’t going in for a dip, it was just an extremely beautiful, naturally calm environment to hang out in and unwind, walk around and take in the serenity, and then sit back and have a cup of coffee while playing with the particularly clean and friendly puppies that are in the area, which is exactly what we did. Naturally, it all started with some ruins, this time of Hierapolis, and then it was time for the relaxing to begin:

The sight-seeing part of our trip was now officially over. We would be transferred to Denizli airport and take a 7:30pm flight to Istanbul, arriving at around 8:30. Our flight out of Istanbul was leaving at about 3:00am so we had a room booked in the airport hotel to shower and relax in before taking our early flight back to Singapore.

Turkey was incredible, far different to anything we had expected and it is amazing to think that if we had come only a decade earlier, many of the sites we explored wouldn’t have even been excavated or rebuilt yet. I also doubt we would’ve enjoyed our time in Turkey as much as we did on this trip if we had to do everything in a large tour group. I’m not trying to sound like an entitled prick, I’m just simply not a people-person. The last time we were part of a tour group was when we were in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands earlier this year and Anna and her friends knew almost immediately that there would be at least one person on each leg of the trip that would get on my nerves in a big way and they weren’t wrong. Large groups of people always irritate me, whether it be personal traits, habits, or just waiting around all day for them to get in the perfect pose for photos such as these that I snapped over the course of our Turkish trip, pictures that need to be taken, checked, and taken again to make sure they’re just right:

Don’t get me wrong, I take a lot of photos when we travel, but it’s more about capturing the moment, not holding up large groups of people because Anna’s hair wasn’t straight. It turns out that it doesn’t just bug me, the tour guides hate it too! In fact, one of our guides said that if they were able to create a photoshop patch that automatically removes Chinese tour groups from the background of your photos, that particular guide would be able to retire a rich and happy man. It wasn’t because of the fact they were Chinese, it was simply due to their habit of holding everyone up or getting in their way by taking pictures. Anna thought this was hilarious until I pointed out that it would also remove her from our pictures as well. That’s why I definitely consider ourselves lucky to now be able to do things privately at our own pace, without delaying anyone else or waiting for them either, and that is what made this trip truly brilliant.

Apologies again for making this more of a History lesson than a personal account, I’d just like to close with a big thank you to our tour guides and we may have to come back again to do the hot-air ballooning, hopefully on enough sleep. I’d also like to add that, in keeping with a recent trend beginning back in May that has plagued pretty much all of our recent international trips, with disasters or tragedies occurring while we were in, or immediately after we left Hawaii, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and China, Turkey didn’t escape unscathed. On this occasion, there was a hurricane warning in Turkey the day we were to depart and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by his own government just two days after we left.

Let’s hope nothing bad happens in South Korea as a result of us visiting Seoul next week.

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