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Western Turkey: Pamukkale and Ephesus
My progress has slowed, my meagre £3 (5 USD) a day budget exceeded considerably, I find myself completely unable to ignore the call of Western Turkey’s rich heritage, and varied attractions. Littered with ancient ruins, often within the town centre, or just off the road, it feels like I am returning to a time centuries ago, exploring ancient temples or amphitheatres on a daily basis.
This is Turkey’s leading archaeological site; human inhabitation dates back to 6,000 BC, and once an important city in the Roman Empire, second only to Rome, holding an important position on the coast as an important trading point, Ephesus makes for a spectacular and interesting visit regardless of whether you are a history buff.
Today, the coast has filled with silt, and the harbour remains stand feebly on terra firma, more than 5km from the sea, a symbol of the city’s decline. A crumbling façade and tattered pillars tell the tale of several earthquakes and invasions (which claimed the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the world). Despite this, of the mere 15% archaeologists have excavated, I found you could really get a feel for what it would be like to be there at the time. It is preserved as it was at the time, and has many similarities with our city centres today. Walking down the street, from the harbour to the marketplace, lined with marble pillars and passing through impressive arches, I felt myself retracing the steps of many a fisherman, or trader, nearly 2,000 years ago. Sitting in the ancient theatre, the roar of a monstrous 25,000 strong crowd as gladiators valiantly did battle, drowned out the chatter of the other tourists.
The hustle and bustle of tourists from all corners of our globe actually added an extra dimension, and actually helped bring the city to life. In historic times, Ephesus was a busy metropol and its important port welcomed people from all over the world, just like today. Despite this, I’d still recommend arriving early, when you will have the city all to yourself (and the ghosts that still wander the lonely streets) to get that perfect picture.
For Christians it marks an important site, and many people assumed my cycle from England had been a pilgrimage; Paul wrote letters to the church there, lived (and was imprisoned) there, John lived here, maybe even writing his gospel during that time, and it is speculated that the Virgin Mary too, stayed here until her death.
From the splendour and tangible history of Ephesus, I went next to…
I expect that like most people, when I first saw photos of this crazy natural quirk, it seemed like an alien environment, you might expect to find several light years away. As I got nearer, the landscape remained completely normal, and I became convinced that it may be a PhotoShop hoax. Then I rounded the crest of the hill and, even from 20km away a colossal (ugly) white scar was visible. As I got closer, it became more detailed and intricate, and thankfully, less ugly!
Formed naturally from hot springs high in calcium concentration, this is Turkey’s top tourist attraction, and has been for centuries, used as a spa even by the Greeks and Romans, as is evidenced by the ancient city of Hierapolis at the top. Walking barefoot up through the Travertines, it is easy to see why it is so popular. Warm water still flows down, over the rock which has formed in ripples and waves, and now collects in pools. The calcium has formed beautiful big pillows, ballooning over the top of rocks, and anything else which once stood in the way, reminding me of the way snow formed on top of anything when I was in Tignes on a ski season.
While I really enjoyed the Travertines, the unique novelty had begun to wane, and I’d forgotten sunglasses and suncream, which is really a must. Thankfully, at the top, is the city of Hierapolis (included in the standard price of 25 lira (£6), where there is plenty to see, and which should not be missed! Once the domain of the rich and famous, society’s elite, at the top, sometimes even built on the calcium before UNESCO restrictions, sits monstrous amphitheatres, delicate temples, and grand castles.
I had no idea what to expect when I entered Turkey, and so far, I am being truly spoilt with everything it has to offer!