The theatre of Hierapolis is one of the best preserved and largest in Turkey, the size is astounding and the view over the travertine’s and the valley is stunning. Today only a small portion of it has been restored including the magnificent stage structures made of stone and with beautifully carved frieze reliefs which have lasted all of these years. The theatre is still in use during festivals and for musical performances despite being constructed all the way back in 200 BC. They say the theatre could hold a whopping 20,000 spectators in its heyday!
The Sacred Pool is the biggest, mostly costly, attraction here providing visitors the opportunity to swim amongst the relics in an ancient pool that was once surrounded by elegant columns, and which have since fallen into the pool in ruins after many earthquakes shattered this city. Slowly the archaeologist are uncovering what would have been a grand Roman city, complete with the Nymphaeum monumental fountain, the grand Temple of Apollo, the Necropolis, the Martyrium, an ancient church and the Plutonuim, a sacred cave and entrance to the underworld, all in varying degrees of ruinous rubble. Our hats go off to these courageous souls who with their commitment and patience are slowly piecing history together.
With the lovely luscious green park on our left, the spectacular view of the Curuksu Plain on our right and the glimmering white of the Travertine’s falling away below, we followed a water pipe and channel; it appears they are controlling the water flow. After doing some research we discovered there used to be a number of hotels at the top linked to the town by a steep roadway cut into the white hillside. After many years of irresponsible tourism operations, the construction and running of these structures ultimately damaged the travertine’s and contaminated the water source forcing the government, in conjunction with UNESCO, to remove the buildings. A new park replaced the hotels and fake ponds were built on the roadway to guide the limestone deposits in forming new ponds. The water was then diverted and controlled to reinstate the gleaming white colour and the travertine’s to their former glory. While we can understand the effort and importance of restoring this incredible natural phenomenon we couldn’t quite help but be selfish, feeling disappointed that we missed out on seeing them at their most striking, with water trickling down making the whole place glitter with mirror like reflections forming on the shimmering ponds. Instead we had to settle with the fake ponds down the old roadway and battle with the crowds swimming in them.
Thankfully Ephesus is a very large site, with the majority of the crowds being condensed amongst the main ruins along Curetes Street, the main artery of Ephesus and processional route between the State Agora at the top of the hill and the Library of Celsus, the remarkable stone edifice at the bottom. Once lined with homes, shops, the brothel, workshops, inns, and most importantly the public latrine – an ancient toilet – Curetes Street is the real Ephesus where the working class mixed with noble men developing ideas of economy, business, religion and the fundamentals of running an elite and prosperous city.
The Library of Celsus is by far the most impressive structure in the entire city, with its grand three storey high portico opulently decorated in stone friezes, and standing so majestically in an intimate square alongside the striking Gate of Macaeus and Mithridates. Built almost 2000 years ago the building was constructed as a tomb for an aristocratic citizen named Celsus, who funded the construction of the ornate library to hold some 12,000 ancient scrolls depicting Roman and Greek history. Sadly the building and its archaic contents were savaged by fire and earthquakes throughout its lifetime, and only in the last 50 years has it been restored, displaying one of the finest examples of monumental Roman public architecture we have seen.
Selçuk is definitely a working-class town and the most Turkish of all the towns we have visited. While it tries to cater for the tourists visiting the nearby attractions, it can’t quite compete with the cruise ships that ferry passengers in, bypassing the town altogether. Instead there is a really quiet tourist scene and some of the cheapest restaurants in the whole of Turkey. The shopkeepers seem to be feeling disgruntled at the lack of tourist traffic passing through as they were much more confrontational than we experienced elsewhere. One such chap came to us and said “you want to buy something expensive for your lady?” as we peered at an elaborately decorated silver pot through his shop window, jokingly we replied “ha, if we had the money”, this response must have set him off, “where you from my friend, the West? …you people used to come here so happy, spend money. Now you come sad face, cry poor, no spend money”, and now aggressively “you think you poor? We poor! So poor some people cannot buy water, struggle to live!” feeling uncomfortable we had to cut him off. We appreciate his argument and can try and understand how he feels but we found it intimidating and forceful. Was he trying to guilt trip us into buying something?
We retreated back to our accommodation, a decadent 1970’s style hotel reminiscent of the movie “The Shining”, with its empty dark halls, creaking doors, eerie silence and not a soul about apart from the family running the place. We must have been the only guests and it felt like we were intruders in a family home, with the live-in owners using the dining room as their living room, spending their mornings glued to the TV watching Turkish soap-operas. All we could make out of it was moaning, yelling and crying. The ladies of the family were engrossed in it, crying and groaning with the actors, and laughed at us laughing at them realising how funny it all looked!
Next stop we hit our SEVENTH and final continent of this trip, taking you to Africa and the crazy streets of Kampala…
Click here to see our photo gallery of the ancient city of Ephesus and Pamukkale.