I am completely enamoured with ancient ruins and warn you now this won’t be our last post on these marvellous structures. I never tire of walking through buildings and on pathways where countless generations have passed before – they speak to my soul and Turkey is an ideal country to feed my soul.
The historical record of Anatolia (modern day Turkey) is lengthy but I will attempt to distill it down to a manageable few paragraphs and hope I don’t bungle the details too badly.
Mesopotamia, the region in which the earliest civilizations are thought to have first taken shape, includes Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and portions of Turkey. The recently excavated archeological site of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey (circa 9500 to 8000 BC) includes stone structures believed to pre-date Stonehenge, and while a visit to this site would have been amazing, given its proximity to the Syrian border we thought it safer to pass.
For 400 years, beginning around 1600 BC, the Hittites were settled throughout Anatolia. In the wake of that civilization’s collapse in the 12th century BC (circa 1178 BC) Greek colonists began settling along the Aegean coast of Anatolia. Additionally, at that time, the Lydian kingdom began to flourish before falling to the Persians in 546 BC. Two hundred years later (334 BC) Alexander the Great defeated the Persians. In 133 BC the Roman Empire invaded and Anatolia became the Roman province of Asia – are you still with me? As the region is prone to earthquakes, the ruins we visited on this trip are actually Roman structures built on the Hellenistic (Greek) ruins of the cities that sprang up in the years following the collapse of the Hittite civilization.
Our end goal on this road trip was Fethiye on the Mediterranean coast. We decided the best way to see the various sites along this route was to rent a car and drive from Istanbul. Luckily we found a Budget car rental agency close to our Airbnb with the added bonus of easy access to the main highway out of Istanbul thus avoiding the crazy, narrow city streets. Turkey’s roadways are very good. The toll roads are impressive, three lanes wide, with a speed limit of 120 kph (75 mph). To keep up with traffic in the middle lane, we were travelling at 130 kph and still being regularly passed as if we were standing still! The secondary highways (no tolls) were busier, but still fast.
First Stop – The City of Ephesus
Built by Greek colonists on the Kaystros River (now dry) in the 10th century BC, Ephesus was an important trading port on the Mediterranean. The ruins are located 3 km southwest of present-day Selçuk (cell·chook), where we stayed in a small family-run hotel. Selçuk is a cute little town with a crumbling ancient aqueduct running through it (the many storks in the area have laid claim to these ruins by building their nests on the broken arches) as well as home to the Basilica of St. John, which was built on what is believed to be the burial site of John the Apostle. We celebrated Howard’s 60th birthday during our stay in Selçuk with the most inexpensive birthday dinner ever – $9 CAD total for the two of us for a delicious combo meal of spiced meatballs (beef) and chicken!
During its lifetime, Ephesus was famous for the nearby Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 BC), which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. You can view a model of what it looked like in this picture. No entry fee is required for this site, likely because there really isn’t anything left, one solitary column still sort of stands, but it was neat to be able to say we’ve “seen” one of the ancient wonders.
This year (2021) a combination ticket to the archeological site of Ephesus and the Terrace Houses is 160 TL ($25 CAD) and entry to the Terrace Houses is absolutely worth doing. Ephesus has two entrances. All of the tour buses drop their passengers at the upper (southern) entrance so they can walk down through the site and the buses then pick them up at the bottom. If you are not part of a group, I highly recommend entering the site through the bottom gate, as in my opinion, all of the interesting sites (the Great Theatre, Celsus Library and Terrace Houses) are near this gate and if you arrive early in the morning you’ll miss the crowds. If you start at the bottom, the walk through the entire site is uphill but not particularly onerous, and honestly after you’ve seen the Terrace Houses, which is the furthest site from the bottom gate, I think you have seen the best Ephesus has to offer.
The Great Theatre at Ephesus is a massive structure with a seating capacity of 25,000, the Library of Celsus, considered one of the most important libraries in antiquity after Alexandria, Egypt, is an eye-catching structure and the Terrace Houses are incredible excavations reflecting the lifestyle of several wealthy residents of Ephesus. Signage isn’t great at Ephesus, but, for an additional fee, you can rent an audio guide, buy a guidebook, hire one of the numerous guides offering their services at the entrances or there is always Google!
Aphrodisias – 2 hours East of Selçuk on our way to Denzili
Aphrodisias was founded in the early 2nd century BC. Known for its high-quality marble from nearby quarries, sculptors from the City were famous throughout the Roman Empire. The museum at the site houses spectacular examples of these sculptures and is definitely worth a visit. The tetrapylon (a four-sided gate built on a crossroads) is impressive, but the stadium was a staggering site – it measures 890 ft by 200 ft and the seating for 30,000 spectators is still intact! The bouleuterion (council house), sebasteion, agora, and Roman theatre are all beautifully preserved too. Not as easy to visit as Ephesus (with its closer proximity to Izmir and the cruise port of Kusadasi), but with an entrance fee of only 40 TL ($12 CAD), in some respects I thought Aphrodisias was more impressive.
Cotton Castles, an Ancient Spa, and a Cave
Located about 16 km from Denizli, Pamukkale (pa·moo·kuh·lay) means cotton castles in Turkish, and this natural formation measuring 8,860 ft long, 1,970 ft wide, 525 ft high is a striking contrast to the surrounding landscape. For thousands of years the thermal springs in the area cascaded over the cliffs leaving behind calcium bicarbonate deposits which, as they cooled, formed natural pools, ridges and shelves.
Sadly, tourism has played havoc with the area and the pools now are being manually filled as most of the water from the area is being re-routed to fill the needs of the nearby town and its tourists. In an effort to preserve the beauty of what is left of this natural wonder, you are not allowed to walk on most of the travertines, despite what Instagram might reflect, and ever watchful security guards in the area were frequently yelling at the people who ignored the “no entry” signs (there is one long strip of pools that is still accessible and can be found below the main viewing area). The entry fee to the area is 110 TL ($17 CAD), with an additional 10 TL ($1.50 CAD) for parking. We arrived when the gates opened in order to catch the sunrise and were virtually alone, except for the hot air balloons passing overhead.
The ruins of Hierapolis are included in the entry fee to Pamukkale. Since the 2nd century BC people have been drawn to the thermal springs in this area and with a necropolis that extends for 2 km (along which some 1,200 tombs have been excavated) it is thought many of these people spent their remaining days in the city. Much of the area was destroyed to make way for modern day hotels, which have now (thankfully) been removed, although one of the pools remains and for a fee you can swim amongst the stone ruins that have been discarded in the pool. We did not see the appeal of sitting in a modern hot tub when the outside temperature was 33°, but thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the impressive theatre dating from around 60 AD, as did the local cats.
Kaklik Cave was an interesting, off the beaten path, reprieve from the heat. Located about 45 km southeast of Pamukkale, this prehistoric cave with an underground stream is full of travertine pools, stalagmites and stalactites, with a rather strong odor of sulphur. A wooden walkway winds its way through the cave, and is pretty much covered with pools of water from the underground stream so don’t wear your best leather shoes! Bit of conflicting information online as to whether there is an entry fee; we were visiting on the Turkish Victoria Day holiday and there was a gentleman selling tickets for 4 TL ($0.60 CAD) that day. For this leg of the trip we stayed in a nice Airbnb in Denzili. It was the first time we’d had a washing machine since Plovdiv, so no more hand washing in the sink!!!
Kibyra – enroute to Fethiye
Even after 36 years together my husband still finds ways to surprise and delight me. We planned together the visits to Ephesus, Aphrodisias, and Pamukkale et al, but I thought those were our only stops. He is the chief driver and navigator on road trips (I fail miserably when it comes to reading maps and over the years we have come to an understanding) so I was completely taken by surprise when we arrived at Kibyra. Located near the modern town of Gölhisar, this ancient city (established 2,300 years ago) was built into the hillside high above the valley below. Known as the City of Gladiators, it was famous for blacksmithing, leather making, pottery and horse breeding with serious excavation of the Town beginning in 2006.
The stadium and theatre are remarkable, but the Medusa Mosaic, in the odeon (music house) took my breath away. Approximately 2,000 years old, this gorgeous mosaic was fully uncovered in just 2012 and is the largest floor covering in Turkey still displayed in its original location. Given how important and delicate it is, it is only available for viewing during the summer months of July, August and September. What a treat it was to see it (and only a $1.90 CAD entry fee to the site)!!!
This road trip was a great way to get from Istanbul to the south coast. We were able to go where we wanted, when we wanted, and thoroughly enjoyed the leisurely drive (if only car rental rates weren’t so outrageous these days). We plan to stay in Fethiye until the end of September, doing some diving and exploring what this coastal area has to offer.
As this road trip spanned several locations, and included a car rental which totally blew the budget due to the high cost these days, we haven’t provided a full cost breakdown, but have included these costs in our total D2 STATS at the bottom of the page. A quick cost summary for this 4-day road trip is: $967 Canadian ($750 USD / €738), which included the car rental of $450 ($359 USD / €302), 4-nights accommodation of $140 ($112 USD / €94) ($35/night average), gas, entrance fees, restaurants and a few groceries.
4 thoughts on “Cotton Castles & Roman Ruins Road Trip – Turkey”
So happy to see that you stopped at Aphrodisia, I think most people overlook this place and it was one of our favourites, even more so than Ephesus, although we did love the Terrace Houses and the Library which were fantastic. Nice to see that you have been taking your time and getting to some of the off the beaten path places. Enjoy Fethiye!
Your photos are fabulous. I am saving all of these amazing places you describe on Google maps for our tour of Turkey next year. I especially like the cotton castles. We will be in Rhodes, right across from you in Fethiye, in another week. We will wave!
We were disappointed to see the ferry between Fethiye and Rhodes is not currently running (a Covid casualty, I believe) otherwise we would have loved to meet up with you!!
Great post! Thank you for sharing! I haven’t been to Turkey yet but so many Senior Nomads have posted this year that i cannot wait to visit! Will save all the info that you shared especially the abnb and transportation. Will follow your posts.