It is really hard to pull the remnants of Greek or Romans away from any story when it comes to Turkey. Because these peoples were there for such a long time that it would be almost impossible to exclude their presence! We had just completed exploring the biblical town of Ephesus (here) and driving through along the coast.
This story is really about the beauty of the so-called Riviera of south Turkish coast, but you will still find traces of Greek culture plus a whole lot of Roman and crusader legacy too.
It was a 2½ hour drive towards the city of Bodrum from Didyma. As a bustling city of tourism and yachting, we grew tired of the city center and headed to Bodrum castle, built by the crusaders in the 15th century. Entry is 10 liras per person and not covered by the tour. One of the main reasons for visiting is to see the array of treasure hauled up from the sea such as the urns and pottery that were recovered from the seas just outside the harbor. There is also a collection of amphorae from different parts of the Mediterranean on display.
The castle overlooks the harbor and the marina where a lot of yachts are moored. It is one of the last examples of Crusader architecture in this part of the world and it was the base of the “Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes”.
You might want to look up the history around what these knights were up to here… It surrendered to the Ottomans in 1522 when Rhodes was captured. Today we are able to enjoy one of the best examples of Crusader architecture due to preservation of the fortress by the Ottomans.
After exploring the castle, we walked along the marina with its row of yachts offering day trips in the Mediterranean. The city center is full of restaurants and bars and crowded with European tourists. We tasted local ice cream, which was a rather sticky kind of gelato and find it to our liking. But with a long day of driving we were bushed. And thus it was off to bed as we prepared for the next day to
Rock the tombs
In the morning we set off in the direction of Dalyan, driving through the inland scenery on the way to the coast. We boarded a boat and headed out to a restaurant called “the other side” with partial views of the rock tombs on the cliffs just above the water way. After lunch we returned to the boat to see more of the rock carved tombs. Built by Lycians, an ancient people inhabiting the area of Turkey between the bays of Antalya and Fethiye, they assimilated with Greeks in the 3rd Century BC such that few records remain.
Then it was off to the mud bath at nearby Sultaniye hot springs. Now the procedure is you soak in the mud and let it dry out in the open. It’s believed to cure rheumatism, skin, liver, spleen and bowel complaints, as well as being beneficial for nervousness (huh?), digestive disorders and gynecological problems. So much for the elixir of longevity. Perhaps the emperors of ancient China should have sent emissaries here to bring some of the mud back…
After you have dried out, wash off the mud and jump into the Sulphur-rich thermal pool. And believe us you would want to. For it you will feel the chill of having the mud air dried. At 40°C, the bath is pleasant and great way to relax after the mud bath. Princess Caroline, Prince Charles, media emperor Robert Maxwell, some scion of the Rockefellers, Sting and actor Dustin Hoffman were said to be amongst previous guests of this hot spring. So much for bragging rights. It was a drip bath after the soaking, before making our way towards Fethiye for our overnight stay. The Green Anatolia hotel is built in Italian villa style and made us feel we were in Tuscany!
The Riviera swim
It was an early setoff as we drove along the coast of the Mediterranean towards the city of Myra. We stopped at one of the many lagoons with its pristine beach, buffeted by Turquoise blue waters. Even though the day was overcast, the occasional sunshine casted a shimmer over the sea. Turkey has a long coastline along the Med, said to be 1,577km long, and strewn along it are some mighty fine beaches.
Have you ever wondered how the Mediterranean got its name? Apparently it seems the Romans, who at the height their power controlled all the lands that ring the sea called it Med (meaning sea) terranean (lands) = Sea in the midst of the Lands (of the Romans we add)… in other words, it was a Roman lake!
Our coach made a quick stop at the Myra rock tombs and the tour did not bring us in. In any case, we all stood at the gates of the site and took zoomed up photos of the rock tombs. One cannot get near in any case. Again these are Lycian origins as we are still in the lands that in ancient days were inhabited by these fascinating peoples who built the awesome structures. So little is known about them.
Then it was off to the church of St. Nicholas – the “real” Santa Claus. While many will think he is a separate person from the man in a jolly red suit, the origins of Santa Claus came from this Christian saint. St. Nicholas was born in Patara around 300AD, who became bishop of Myra, and died around 350AD. Said to have been born of wealthy parents, he is associated with mysteries of special deeds and miracles and of being generous. After his death he was pronounced a saint, patron to the sailors, hence the church built to his honor. Said to had come bearing gifts to children on 6th December, his generosity became a tool at the hands of commercial people exploiting his name as Santa Claus. Sigh.
Finishing our trip at Myra, we were brought to another boat trip. This time we set off towards the island of Kekova. A protected area since 1990, no swimming is allowed as we cruised pass the partially sunken city of Simena and saw the foundations of many buildings. From the glass bottom, fragments of pottery and other ancient objects in the shallower parts were also visible. The cause of the sinking came due to the downward shift of land following a strong earthquakes in the 2nd century AD. That event led to half of the houses being submerged. One can still see the stairs leading to a lower level of a house. Wow. So Atlantis was not the only city that sunk beneath the sea!
Kekova is also a place to swim. In its many inlets and coves, the waters are sheltered from the sea and make for great places to bask in the cool waters of the Med. Yep, it was a little cool… but with the right swim gear it was enjoyable. As the day drew to a close we left Kekova and resumed the drive towards Antalya. More inlets and coves greeted us as we drove to the tourist magnet of
Our day started with a walk in the center of Antalya starting with Hadrian’s gate. It was an important city during the Byzantine era. We continued through its old cobbled streets, exploring the alleys of shops and restaurants. The old town center leads to the marina and a maze of shops. Indeed one can get lost in the midst of the browsing. However, one only need to head uphill to get back to the new city area. We saw numerous curios such as an antique looking Gramophone. There was even a replica of fur coats used by the Ottomans replete with military regalia. It felt like a walk in an old European town with its cobbled streets and cool morning breeze. Very relaxing indeed.
But then it was time for a drive for about an hour eastwards out of Antalya to the famed theatre of Aspendos. Built in 155 AD by the Greek architect Zenon, the theatre is so well preserved that it was used for performances regularly until recently. Today, only a few performances take place there. The city of Aspendos is known for having this best preserved theatre of antiquity with a diameter of 96m, providing seating for 7,000. As a trivial, Aspendos was also one of the earliest cities to mint its own coins, starting around 500BC.
You will notice that Greek theatres do not have a wall facing the audience. Instead the audience can easily look over the play area. Contrast this to a Roman-designed theatre, where a facade will block the audience to only see the performance, hiding the other actors. The characteristics of Roman theatres are similar to those of the earlier Greek theatres except for this. This is due in large part to the fact that a lot of architectural influence on the Romans came from the Greeks too.
Finishing our trip to Aspendos, we had lunch before we headed back towards Antalya, stopping at the Düden waterfalls for photos. It is a group of waterfalls in the province, formed by the Düden River (one of the major rivers in southern Anatolia), located 12 km north-east of Antalya. The waters of the Lower Düden Falls drop off a rocky cliff directly into the Mediterranean Sea in a dazzling shower. Our guide took us to a nearby local market and gave us ½ hour to explore where the local people go to buy their grocery.
All kinds of fresh produce were on offer – including a large variety of aubergines, lady’s fingers in shapes and sizes that we do not see elsewhere! It was 4pm on a Friday and it is normally on this day that the farmers come with their wares. Suan bought a kilo of Bananas for TRL2.50 and another kilo of fresh figs for TRL5 plus avocados for TRL1 each. There is so much that we shared it with tour mates over meals in the following days. Locals and some foreigners alike mill the markets for the best buy. Alas the 30 minutes passed really fast and it was that long drive back to the hotel in the terrible traffic.
From this point we are headed inland to the uplands of Anatolia. Continue here for the final leg of our journey towards Cappadocia!
This Journey took place in October 2010