Thursday, July 23, 2015

We visited Pamukale, Kusadasi and Ephesus – 01 and 02 May

Turkey Tit Bits

Good Morning is “günaydın” in Turkish meaning ‘May your morning be bright and enlightened’. Christianity and Western culture has influenced Turkish society to a large extent. This influence is evident in many aspects of their living. Housing is fairly expensive in Turkey. A dwelling in Cappadocia may cost anywhere up to 75,000 USD and five times that in Istanbul.

Turkish coffee is extremely strong. There is no filtering process as we know it – boiling water is poured into a cup containing coffee powder and allowed to settle and consumed thereafter. Turkish ice cream is thick and dense. Their salads are extremely fresh and delectable. This is one country where the taste buds of both the vegetarians and the non vegetarians were wonderfully pandered to. The Turks drink a lot of ‘Sherbet’ -  made with flower petals, herbs and spices mixed with fruit in summer and ‘Sahleb’ in winter - a drink made from tuber floor that keeps them warm.

Ten of us travelling in a 36 seater bus was sheer luxury – lots of space and privacy. The monotony of the journey and the forced closeness with others was totally mitigated. Central Turkey is more traditional and Islam is practised with more fervour. Konya was the first capital of Turkey followed by Bursa, Edirne, Istanbul and finally Ankara. The countryside is very pleasant to watch as one drives along – apple orchards are plentiful in the foreground with snow peaked mountains as a back drop. Whizzing by, we saw carpets of green grass,  beautiful tulips, cafes by the seaside, children’s parks and even exercise machines by the sea. Unlike the Indian road scene, there are no human beings to be seen on the highways. In some places the landscape is dotted with windmills. Turkey used to export large quantities of Marmara marble to China but this has now considerably reduced as China has reduced the use of luxury items (or so our guide told us). Individual taxes go up to 30% and an average middle class family spends up to 2000 USD per month. Public education is free up to university level. 23rd April is celebrated as Children’s Day the day on which their 1st National Assembly was established after the 1st World War. Petrol costs the same amount as in India.

On the last leg of Turkey journey we visited Pamukale and Hierapolis.

Pamukale meaning "cotton castle" in Turkish, is a hot spring site in Denzili province in Southwestern Turkey. Hot calcium-laden waters spring from the earth and cascade over a cliff. As they cool, they form dramatic Traventines of hard, brilliantly white calcium that form pools.  It is recognized as a World heritage site together with Hierapolis. Alongside is located the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis in a valley. Hierapolis was founded as a thermal spa early in the 2nd century BC. This ancient town became a healing centre where doctors used the thermal springs as a treatment for their patients. Some of the excavations are truly amazing in terms of architecture and sheer grandeur.

The hot springs at Pamukale have to be seen to be believed! The pools are crystal clear with a mesmerizing touch of white and a hint of celestial blue. The hills of calcium deposits glisten white in the sunlight, looking snow clad and wintery. It is only when one nears it does one see it for what it is; another one of those never ending wonders of nature.

An interesting legend associated with Pamukale was narrated by Mr Arjun our guide. “There was a young girl who was unmarried and ugly. As no one wanted to marry her, she decided to commit suicide and she threw herself off the travertine and fell into a natural pool but did not die. Because of the healing waters in the natural pool she turned into a very beautiful girl and caught the attraction of the lord of Denizli while he was passing by. The lord instantly fell in love with this young and beautiful girl and they soon got married.”

Figure 1 - City of Pamukale

Figure 2 – Fascinating limestone deposits

Figure 3 - Travertine terrace formations

Figure 4 - The pools of Pamukale

Figure 5 – Photo op

Figure 6 – KM in a mischievous mood

Figure 7 – Some competition?

Figure 8 – Jai looking good and relaxed

Figure 9 –Ruins of the Amphitheatre of Hierapolis with a seating capacity of 15000. 60 AD

Figure 11 - A bath in Cleopatra’s Pool has always been known to possess healing properties. It is actually a thermal pool where the water temperature ranges from 36 to 57° Celsius.

Figure 12 – Setting sun from the hotel balcony, Kusadasi and the vast expanse of the Aegean Sea

After a refreshing night’s stay in Kusadasi, the next morning we visited a few ancient historical sites.

The House of Virgin Mary is located on the top of "Bulbul" – (Nightingale) mountain, 9 km from Ephesus. The shrine of Virgin Mary is a humble house in the midst of a sprawling garden. According to legend, this is the place where Mary spent her last days. It is said that Jesus Christ in the last hours of His life asked John to take care of his mother.  Saint John, brought Virgin Mary to this house and looked after her. He then spent several years in the area to spread Christianity. During that period the entire area around Ephesus was ruled by the Romans.

A couple of days earlier I had lost the cap of my Nikon camera in Istanbul. As we were strolling in the garden, Kats saw a camera cap lying on a stone bench under a tree. On inspection, I found that it was exactly like the cap which I had lost. Without any hesitation I picked up the cap – to me it was a miracle of sorts – a gift from Mary herself.

The place generates a feeling of well being and the atmosphere is filled with a sense of peace, calmness and piety; a feeling one experiences in truly sacred places.

Figure 13 – Statue of the Virgin Mary

Figure 14 – House of Mary

Figure 15 – Wishing wall, where people write their wish on a paper and hang it on the wall

In 10 BC, Androclos, the son of the King of Athens-Kodros, established the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was controlled by the Romans in 190 BC. One is awestruck by the vastness and the reach of the Roman Empire. Their writ is written all over the conquered land. Ephesus is a typical Roman settlement with temples, baths, libraries, aqua ducts and the like. A visit to this place is an eye opener – one sees the existence of a well networked sewage system, functional toilets, broad roads, libraries and fountains that give us a glimpse of what life was all about in an ancient roman city.

The ancient city of Ephesus had two main entrances, the upper and the lower. The visit starts at the upper level followed by a slow climb down to the last level.

Figure 16 - This building has the shape of a small amphitheatre with the stage building, seating and the orchestra. It had a double function. First, it was used as a Bouleuterion for the meetings of the Boulea or the Senate. The second function was using the Odeum as a concert hall for performances. It was constructed in the 2nd century A.D.   It had a capacity of 1500 spectators

Figure 17 - Domitian Temple gave this area its name. It was the first temple to be built in the name of an emperor (81 - 96A.D.)

Figure 18 – Ancient sewage pipe lines

Figure 19 – Photo op

Figure 20 - The Curates Street is one of the main arteries of Ephesus. There were fountains, monuments, statues and shops on the sides of the street. The shops on the south side were two-storied. Ephesus had many earthquakes, in which many structures including the Curetes Street were damaged.

Figure 21 – Self and Dore at the Hercules gate.

Figure 22 – Tablet of Nike Winged Goddess of Victory in ancient Greek religion.

Figure 23 – Fountain of Trojan. Built around 104 C.E, it is one of the finest monuments in Ephesus. It was constructed in honor of Emperor Trajan, and the statue of Trajan stood in the central niche on the facade overlooking the pool.

Figure 24 - There are six residential units on three terraces at the lower end of the slope of the Bulbul Mountain. The oldest building dates back into the 1C BC and continued in use as residence until the 7C AD. The heating system of the terrace houses were the same as that in baths. Clay pipes beneath the floors and behind the walls carried hot air through the houses. The houses also had cold and hot water. The houses had proper latrines with a very intricate system of sewage and plumbing.The houses had marble walls with decorated flooring.

Figure 25Public toilets built in 1Century AD. There was an entry fee to use them.

Figure 26 - This library is one of the most beautiful structures in Ephesus. It was built in 117 A.D. It was a monumental tomb for Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, the governor of the province of Asia, from his son Galius Julius Aquila. The scrolls of the manuscripts were kept in cupboards in niches on the walls. There were double walls behind the bookcases to protect them from the extremes of temperature and humidity. The capacity of the library was more than 12,000 scrolls. It was the third richest library in ancient times after the Alexandra and Pergamum.

Figure 27 – Truly memorable visit

Figure 28 – Magnificent road leading to the theatre.

Figure 29 - The Great Theatre was constructed in the Hellenistic period but remodelled many times in the Roman period. It is the largest theater in Asia Minor with accommodation for 25,000 people; 24,000 seats and 1000 standing places.  Construction of the Great Theatre of Ephesus may have begun during Hellenistic times. The seats at the bottom of the cave had marble backs and they were used by the most important personalities of the city.

Basilica of St John

It is believed that the evangelist St. John spent his last years in the region around Ephesus and was buried in the southern slope of Ayosolug Hill. Three hundred years after the death of St. John, a small chapel was constructed over the grave in the 4th century. The church of St John was changed into a marvelous basilica during the region of Emperor Justinian (527 -565 AD). It is believed that the Apostle John traveled from Jerusalem along with Mary somewhere between 37 and 48 AD. to the city of Ephesus where he remained for the rest of his life. John was martyred at the age  of 98 under the rule of the Emperor Trajan.

Figure 30 – Main gate leading to the basilica

Figure 31 – Ruins of the basilica

Figure 32 – Resting place of Saint John

Figure 33 – The gang

Figure 34 – End of a memorable visit to Turkey – in the hotel room for a farewell drink.

Turkey surprised us with its gentle, tolerant and courteous people, its romantic cities, its ancient architecture and its mix of the modern and the traditional. It is a country that has character, beauty and a sense of history. It is blessed with a wonderful climate yielding wondrous produce; a country that needs to be savoured slowly and leisurely till its charm seeps into your very being and you return home treasuring the time that you spent there.