One of the many reasons John and I have made this third trip to Turkey is because the entire country is a museum. Take your pick, indoors or out, there is always something amazing to see.
We practice hub-and-spoke travel, meaning we pick a city as our home base and venture out from that city hub. With that model in mind, we flew to Denizli, a mid-sized town (pop. 500,000) in southwest Turkey, rented a car and motored to several incredible locales during a two-day visit.
The Cotton Palace
First up was Pamukkale. “Kale” means castle/palace and “pamuk” means cotton in Turkish. When I first saw Pamukkale, it was easy to see how the place got its name.
Calcite-laden springs in a cliff almost 600 feet high overlooking the plain of Cürüksu create an alien landscape of petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins that resemble a cotton-white palace when looking up or down at the site.
We ventured out on the top terrace and waded in the pools. Very refreshing!
The extraordinary landscape has been a focus of interest for millenia. So much so that the Hellenistic spa town of Hierapolis was founded here at the end of the 2nd century BC.
Hierapolis was ceded to Rome in 133 BC and the town flourished for centuries as part of the Roman Empire. St. Philip was martyred here in 80 AD.
Today, remains of the Greco-Roman period include baths, temple ruins, a monumental arch, a nymphaeum, a necropolis and a theatre. Being a hot springs junkie, my favorite was the bath.
Swimming amidst antiquity is an experience I will never forget! Sitting atop the ruins of a Roman column in warm, comforting mineral water is something I can definitely recommend.
Not far from Pamukkale (about four miles north of Denzili) is what remains of Laodicea (Laodikya, Laodikeia).
Spread out over two square miles, excavations here have revealed artifacts dating from 3500 BC. The city’s current moniker originated in the 3rd Century BC when a king named the fair city after his wife.
Like its neighbor, Hierapolis, Laodicea became part of the Roman Empire, and thrived from the 4th to 6th centuries. Christians know it as one of the Seven Churches (church meaning group of believers — not a building) St. John enumerates in Revelations.
Laodicea is in an earthquake zone and was ruined, then restored, many times, but by the early 1200s it was nothing more than a farmer’s fields. Archaeologists began excavation work in earnest in 2002 and the result is extraordinary.
For some reason that I don’t fully understand, I am fascinated with Roman plumbing. Piping (clay) and pressure works (marble) were revealed at Laodicea. It’s astounding to me to know this ancient city was plumbed!
But one of our favorite spots was the unrestored amphitheater.
Each seat had its own carved identifier. This looks like Seat N to me…but who knows?
Archeologists will be busy at Laodicea for decades. When the city is more fully restored, it will rival Ephesus in the beauty revealed.
The City of Love
The Temple of Aphrodite (the Goddess of Love was known as Venus by the Romans) has remained (in)famous down through the ages. I learned that the City of Aphrodite, Aphrodisias, had more to offer than the temple while chatting with two Turkish tour guides over lunch at Hieropolis. They strongly suggested we carve out time to visit, so we squeezed it in as the last stop before heading back to Istanbul on a late-night flight.
Aphrodisias is about two hours west of Pamukkale if you drive like a law-abiding American and about an hour if you drive pedal-to-the-metal like a Turk. John got us there somewhere in between!
Nestled in a broad, fertile valley, this city has been here for more than 4500 years. By the 8th century BC, Aphrodisias was famous as the City of Aphrodite, and pilgrims came to pay homage to the Goddess of Love at her temple.
Turkeytravelplanner.com says “it’s easy to imagine ancient fertility rites such as the belly dance being performed in her temple here,” but “with the coming of Christianity, her temple, site of who knows what other rites in worship of love, was converted into a chaste church.” Those darned Christians ruined all the fun!
I marveled at Aphrodite’s temple, but I really felt the love when we entered the giant stadium. Astounding!
While I struggled to conjure up belly dancers at an orgy back at the temple, I had no problem imagining 30,000 onlookers cheering during a chariot race at this stadium. Guess I prefer action movies over porn!
Aphrodisias kept getting better. An amphitheater built into the side of the acropolis is in excellent condition.
Every City of Love needs a Roman bath so Emperor Hadrian built a luxurious spa here.
The tiles looked eerily familiar. Think my black-and-white kitchen tiles will last for 19 centuries?
Aphrodisias was home to a Roman sculpture school, a marble quarry is located nearby, and a museum displays many pieces of excavated sculpture. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and the museum was closed when we got round to touring it.
No problem! The late afternoon sunlight was spectacular, adding to our enjoyment of the outdoor museum that is Aphrodisias.