Destination: Selcuk, Turkey
Number of Days Spent: 3 days
Where we stayed: Hotel Bella - 70 lira ($50 breakfast, wifi, beautifully decorated rooms & an outdoor terrace complete with a view of St. John's Basilica, a castle & nesting storks!)
Best restaurant: The hotel served a great set meal for 17 lira ($12) on its rooftop terrace. It included 3 mezes (try the spicy feta & the eggplant yogurt) and one entree (lamb sis, spicy beef sis, chicken sis - our favorite was the spicy beef, it was similar to an adana kebap)
Best of: The restored library at Ephesus was a sight to behold!
Worst of: The price of gas was nearly $8 per gallon (I guess on par with Europe; it's good to pay US prices)
Favorite quote: "Watch your step, this street is horrible" Said in disgust by a tour guide about the Marble Road in Ephesus
Most Memorable: Playing Emperor at the numerous Roman theaters
After having a restful day in Ayvalik it was time to hit some ancient ruins. If you think Italy is the best place to see Roman ruins, think again. Turkey has more Roman ruins than any other country in the world. Much like Istanbul, lots of trade roads to Europe ran through modern day Turkey. Just in the area around Selcuk there are five rather important sights. Most people have heard of Ephesus, and with good reason. Aside from Ephesus, however, there are a few lesser known sites collectively called "PMD" (Priene, Miletus and Didyma) after the tour that takes you to all three in a day. They too each had a little to offer to the casual traveler and a bit more to the History Buff.
Before striking out to Ephesus proper, we checked out the Ephesus Museum. Like a turkey at Thanksgiving, 2000 year old sites tend to have been picked to the bone and all the good parts sent "home" to museums. While it takes a little from the sites themselves, it helps to preserve and protect the pieces from the elements as well as "treasure" hunters. The Ephesus museum has a fine collection of mainly statues found at the site...including the fertility god(s) pictured below. No explanation needed I don't believe.
Also in Selcuk proper lies the remains of St. John's Basilica, the largest church in the world when built. St. John was entrusted by Jesus to take care of Mary shortly after he was arrested. It was here, in Ephesus, that John brought Mary to live out the rest of her life. The Assumption of Mary is believed to have happened in a house nearby (actual site still disputed, but most scholars agree that it happened somewhere in Ephesus). Because of his importance to the area and the religious significance of the events that occurred here, the site became a pilgrimage site and a huge basilica was built here to house the remains of St. John. Today it is little more than some columns and foundations on a hill at the edge of town, but still worth a quick look.
Aside from housing the remains of the Apostle, the ruins also provide excellent breeding grounds for Storks. Perched high on top of the residual columns, the storks build their nests. From the top of our hotel, we could see the storks flying off to find food for their young ones and return to feed them. We were a couple of weeks too early to see the chicks take their first flights, but it was still fun to watch them from afar.
We opted to rent a car and hit up the "PMD" route on our own instead of taking a tour. Saving the nice setting of Priene for last, we drove on to Miletas. With its massive theatre, including the "VIP" chairs still intact, we wandered around the ancient city admire the views and wondering what it would have been like 2000 years ago. You would not know it today as the ocean is over 10 kilometers away, but the city used to be an important port during Roman and Byzantine times. The harbor was used as a jumping off point for ships on the way to Jerusalem. The palaces and temples used to ocean front property and filled with water. Today the little water provides a better home for mosquitos than the elite Romans of the day.
Didyma, or the "D" part of the tour was actually a temple, not a city. The temple of Artemis at Ephesus (one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World) may have had all the glory in the Roman period, but the temple of Didyma withstood the test of time far better. While only a single column remains of the Temple of Artemis (as a result of Christian fanaticism destroying the once great monument) Didyma is relatively intact and only 8 pillars or so smaller.
Heading out of Didyma, we passed this fun looking water park. Didn't stop but thought it was interesting with the Minaret looking towers. Muslims might go in fully clothed, but they can still have a good time and avoid any nasty sunburns in the process!
Taking a slight detour, we stopped at a small town by a nice lake for lunch. The name escapes us, and the food was forgettable, but the little pile of ruins out on an island in the lake set a stunning backdrop to a sleepy little town.
Priene was our last stop on the "PMD" tour. Perched high on the hill, the views from the top overlooking the fertile plains below are stunning. Little is known about the city as it's importance as a harbor faded long before it's neighbors - Ephesus and Miletus. The harbor silted up and most of the people moved out. It still has your usual compliment of a theatre, temples and baths, but set in a wooded area, providing a little color to the grey and weathered stones.
Ephesus is by far and away the main tourist draw to the area and for good reason. In its prime, Ephesus was a sprawling city of over 500,000 people, rivaling Rome in size within the Roman empire. Aside from the afore mentioned Temple of Artemis, the ruins of the main city are well maintained and preserved. The Library, the second largest in the world behind the Library of Alexandria (another Wonder of the World) stands most impressive, soaring into the sky at the end of the main street. The theatre here could seat over 40,000 people, making it second only to the Coliseum in Rome. On the religious aspects, aside from being Mary's home in her later years, it was one of the first cities in the Empire to convert to Christianity and the church of Ephesus is one of the seven churches mentioned in Revelations. Aside from its importance and the well maintained site, this is the best place to "feel" a bustling Roman city. Ephesus is a major tourist destination in Turkey, particularly with cruise ships. The day we were here, there were at least two huge ships docked filling the streets of Ephesus with well over 2000 people.
On of the first recorded advertisements in the world can be seen here also (see the heart & the pretty lady). The foot print in the pavement pointed the way to the Brothel!
The Terrace Houses, also located in Ephesus, house an array of mosaics and frescoes from the elite. While it was interesting, we didn't think it was worth the extra price of admission given that the walkway is too far away from the mosaics to truly appreciate them. They were still nice even if they were far away. It was however, really neat to see the restoration in process!
After our visit to Ephesus we stopped by one of the famous Gozleme shops for lunch. With our fill of yummy gozleme (Turkish pancake) we headed to our next destination, Pamukkale for the travertines & Heiropolis ruins!