Tuesday, 4 December 2012
Day 243 - Turkish Antiquities: Part 1 (Turkey)
Our first few days in Turkey were a whirlwind of long driving days and covering large distances without stopping to see much. Our aim was to cut through the centre of the country quite promptly and slow down to explore the West coast once we got to it. It’s a shame to miss so much of this culturally and historically rich nation, but our time is running shorter and shorter and unfortunately we just can’t see everything.
Having said this, we did pause at two lovely towns in the Northern part of the country – Amasya and Safranbolu. The old town of Amasya is laid alongside a river, and with relaxing parkland lining one river bank and traditional Ottoman houses lining the other, it is a beautiful to township to explore. What sets it apart from other quaint historical towns though is that it is nestled between cliff faces, one of which is topped with a castle. Magnificent tombs are carved into the side of the cliff overlooking the town, from which you can get a spectacular view.
Safranbolu is UNESCO World Heritage Listed because of its prolific Ottoman style architecture. It was quite typically touristy with small cobble-stoned laneways lined with European style cafes and souvenir shops, but quaint and enjoyable all the same. The buildings were really very interesting and if you’re willing to go exploring past the central maze of touristic streets, there are some very quirky and unique parts to the town.
Almost at the West coast, we found one of our best camping spots of all time near the sites of Pamukkale, Hierapolis and Afrodisias. The ground was flat, we were away from prying eyes, a camp fire place was already built, we had fire wood, and it wasn’t too cold, but most importantly we had a spectacular view over the valley, reaching for miles in each direction.
Pamukkale was the main site we were interested in, but Denner was using a gooey substance to fix a hole in the radiator and needed us to drive further than it was to Pamukkale, so instead, we visisted Afrodisias first. Set in the hills, away from any major (or even minor for that matter) cities/towns, we were horrified to find that they were charging for parking. This is one place in Turkey where space is not an issue, yet they have blocked everything off to force you to park in the pay parking a kilometre away from the entrance. There is actually a road that leads all the way to the entrance where there are two huge car parks, also blocked off so that not only do you need to pay for parking, but you’re forced to ride their novelty tractor service that runs from the car park to the entrance. In summer I imagine that all this parking would be packed, rendering a need for a tractor service, but still not charging for parking. Never the less there were only two buses and about four cars when we arrived so the whole thing is just quite offensive. We were most perturbed at this and refused to give into their extortion of tourists, so drove a bit along the road where we just parked in a lay-by and walked back.
Afrodisias itself was an interesting ruins to explore, my favourite part of which was the oblong sports stadium that stretched 270 metres and could sit 30,000 people. Although nowhere near as huge and well preserved as Efes, there were far less tourists here and it was still very interesting. We decided to use the same camping spot as the previous night, making that now the first camping spot we have returned to.
The following day had Pamukkale and Hierapolis in hold for us – Hierapolis being an ancient city and Pamukkale being its water source. Hierapolis, whilst being the ruins of an ancient city, is similar in many ways to a lot of other sites. Pamukkale on the other hand is highly unique and incredibly spectacular – one of the best things we’ve seen on this trip in fact – thus overshining Hierapolis in its beauty and intrigue. When approaching the site, you are faced with a wall of gleaming white, stretching as far as the eye can see (it was foggy the day we were there so it wasn’t actually all that far in this case). Even knowing that it wasn’t, it was hard to believe that it was anything other than a hill covered in fresh snow. The white colouring is caused by the high levels of calcium in the springs that trickles over the hill, forming shining blue terraces of the thermal water. Visitors are required to remove their shoes before walking on the area, so during the ascent across the travertines you can feel the difference between the temperatures in the water – some of it is thermal, some a little warm and some freezing cold. The calcium deposits itself in waves, forming unique patterns on the floor; rock hard in some places, soft and squishy in others.
An ancient thermal bath is located at the top of the hill, available for swimming in for the fee of 30 Lira ($15) per person (entrance to the site was 20 Lira per person). We went prepared to swim, excited at the idea and expecting a somewhat authentically styled bathhouse which we could enjoy the thermal mineral water in. As it turns out though, even though the travertines themselves are very intact and un-abused, the complex between the two sites (Pamukkale and Hierapolis) is obnoxiously touristic and quite built up. The “ancient bathhouse” that we were so intrigued about was just a small pool decorated with fake plants, backing onto a row of shops, a tacky massage parlour and a virtual video studio. It was a shame that this part of the experience was so artificial, and after the incredible Pamukkale we were quite disappointed and decided to opt out of taking a dip. This disappointment though was nowhere near enough to take away from the amazing time we had exploring Pamukkale.