Monday, September 28, 2015

Day tripping İzmir: II

Day tripping İzmir: II

Day tripping İzmir: II
Acropolis, Bergama (Photo: Pat Yale)

If you're heading north or south along Turkey's Aegean coast, there's no way that you can avoid having to transit İzmir without a lengthy diversion. But fear not -- the city may be huge, but it's also increasingly attractive as a tourist destination if you allow yourself enough time to get to grips with it. What's more, it makes a great base for day tripping out to some of the many attractive archeological sites, towns and resorts in the vicinity.
Last week I suggested a number of places to visit that lie inland from İzmir, towns such as Tire, Bayındır and Ödemiş that are far more inviting than their low touristic profile might suggest. But most visitors will probably be keener to visit places that are by the sea or feature dramatic archeological remains.


Of course the single most important place that can be visited on a day trip from İzmir is Ephesus, the sprawling Roman settlement that is the main target of the cruise passengers who pour ashore here throughout the summer. But for my money Ephesus is better visited from smaller Selçuk, the medieval-to-modern town that grew up nearby, or from the cruise port-cum-holiday resort of Kuşadası, both places readily accessible from İzmir.

Bergama, however, is a place that you might easily choose to visit from İzmir since, unlike Selçuk and Kuşadası, it has a relatively small and unexciting choice of places in which to stay. Until recently, Bergama has always seemed a surprisingly under-visited town given the high quality of its historic attractions. This year, however, it was elevated to world heritage site status ahead of Ephesus and the authorities have been working hard to make it more inviting to visitors. In particular, the installation of a cable-car to get people up to the Acropolis has made Bergama a much more manageable town to get around than it used to be. Restoration work is also currently under way at the Kızıl Avlu (Red Basilica). Some may squirm at its brash new appearance, but the end result may be to turn what was very much an also-ran attraction into something far more interesting.

Bergama has three main points of interest: the Acropolis, which was once home to the incredible Altar of Zeus that now graces the Pergamum Museum in Berlin; the Asclepeion, which was once an ancient medical center; and the Bergama Museum, which houses some of the finds from the ancient spa center of Allianoi, lost beneath the waters of the Yortanlı Barajı (Dam) in 2011. The main sites aside, the older part of town is also well worth an hour or so of your time. It's the sort of place where you'll come across a café where old men play backgammon in the sun seemingly oblivious of the fact that the tarpaulin above their heads is supported on columns removed from a lost Roman building. You may also stumble upon the old abandoned synagogue that was recently renovated. Even the Kurtuluş Cami is a find since the modern mosque is housed inside a medieval tower right beside the Kızıl Avlu.

Eski and Yeni Foça

Bergama may have the ruins, but it certainly doesn't have the sea. If that's what you're after, you may prefer to head north instead to the two Foças, once important Genoese trading centers and now flourishing seaside resorts. The larger of the two is Eski (Old) Foça, which mainly straddles the headland between two harbors. Here the remains of the Genoese castle are being slowly and lovingly restored while a number of small boutique hotels have opened both behind it and around the smaller of the two harbors. As yet, though, there isn't really enough accommodation to cater for the mid-summer rush, which is one good reason for visiting on a day trip from İzmir.

Yeni (New) Foça is easily accessible by bus from Eski Foça, although there are also direct buses from İzmir. Somewhat surprisingly, it's Yeni Foça that retains more of its historic character with street after street of attractive Ottoman Greek houses running back from the small strip of sand that is its main drawcard. There are no specific attractions here, although for those who grow weary from the concrete that encases most Turkish towns this is a wonderfully relaxing and inspirational small town. You might even find yourself standing in front of the Griffin Boutique Hotel (tel: 0232-814 7777), housed in a redundant winery, and wishing that you hadn't booked that bus ticket back to İzmir.

Dikili and Çandarlı

North of the Foças is another small seaside resort that finds more favor with Turks than foreigners and that is Dikili, a pleasantly sleepy place that only really comes to life during the school summer holiday period. There's nothing specific to draw you up here if history is your thing. However, just to the south Çandarlı is home to one of the finest castles surviving from the period when the Genoese had planted trading colonies round much of the Turkish coast. Despite recent claims that it would be opening to the public, the castle remained as firmly garrisoned against visitors as ever on my most recent visit.

Metropolis (Torbalı)

History lovers might also like to hop on the bus (or the train) to Torbalı, south of İzmir, where the ruins of the ancient settlement of Metropolis survive on the outskirts. While by no means as impressive as the ruins at Bergama, those at Metropolis are nonetheless interesting, with the remains of a theater, a bathhouse and a communal latrine. There's also a fine mosaic floor that the caretaker may be persuaded to soak for you so that you will be able to see how the colors would originally have glistened.

Akhisar and Alaşehir

For those with an interest in biblical history, İzmir, as Smyrna, was one of the Seven Churches mentioned by St. John of Patmos in the Book of Revelation. Today the ruins of Smyrna are more accessible than they used to be thanks to a handy new Metro station at Bayraklı. Sardis, too, is readily accessible by bus from İzmir. Far fewer people realize that two more of the “churches” (actually settlements) also lie in İzmir's backyard.

Akhisar was once Thyateira, although it has little to show for the fact beyond the ruins of a building with an apse whose use remains unclear and traces of a porticoed street. Alaşehir was the original Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love). Here at least there are remains of a church, and one that was obviously of monumental size to judge from the surviving arches that must once have supported a central dome. Doesn't seem worth going so far just for that? Well, a lengthy stretch of the old city wall also survives here and you can have fun tracking its path as it wends its way through the houses and car parks near where the bus from İzmir drops you off.


Akhisar and Alaşehir are sites of relatively minor interest except to specialists. Ditto Kemalpaşa, one of the easiest places to get to from İzmir with minibuses departing every 20 minutes from the otogar. Kemalpaşa was the ancient Nif, a fact it seems to have been determined to forget in the rush to modernity. Just one major monument survives from the period that would be well worth going out of your way to visit were it not for the fact that it is currently hidden behind scaffolding. This monument was the Laskarisler Sarayı (palace, also known locally as Kız Kulesi, the Maiden's Tower), the summer home of the Byzantine emperors living in exile in Nicaea (İznik) after the Crusaders drove them out of Constantinople (İstanbul) in 1204. The emperor responsible for its construction was actually buried in its grounds.

The scaffolding is due to come down any day soon according to the sign. Once that happens expect to see a newly restored building vaguely reminiscent of the better known Tekfur Sarayı in İstanbul.
Keywords: İzmir , day trip

Monday, September 21, 2015

Awesome Aphrodisias

Awesome Aphrodisias

Awesome Aphrodisias
(Photo: Pat Yale, Sunday's Zaman)

The small photography gallery in aphrodisias (Afrodisias) houses an extraordinary black-and-white image.
Two bearded middle-aged men in flat caps are sitting cross-legged on a bench beneath a plane tree enjoying a smoke and a chat in the quiet of their village. Look more closely, however, and you will see that this is no ordinary bench. Instead, it has armrests carved in the shape of dolphins and footrests in the shape of lions' feet. It is, in other words, a Roman bench. Yet the men sitting on it on that sunny day were doing so in 1958, when the great photographer Ara Güler had come to visit the village of Geyre, then squatting amid the remains of ancient Aphrodisias.

It goes more or less without saying that those two men were among the last Turks permitted to live here. Second in extent only to those of ephesus (Efes), the ruins of Aphrodisias were far too splendid to be left unexcavated. And so the villagers were moved to Yeni Geyre (New Geyre), leaving just a handful of the buildings of Eski Geyre (Old Geyre) to molder amid the ruins rather as they do at Stratonicea (Stratonikeia), out west near Yağatan. The amazing thing is that the marble bench still survives, still standing beneath that same plane tree, which means that you can plonk yourself down on it for a rest just as those two men did more than 50 years ago.

The gallery also displays other Güler photographs of the last days of Eski Geyre, revealing a world in which a Roman capital could be casually reused as the base for a wooden column, a piece of temple architrave as the bottom of an oil press. The romantics among us might wish that we could still see such sights, but of course that's wishful thinking.

The site

The excavated remains of Aphrodisias cover a wide area so make sure that you allow plenty of time to do them justice. Most tours set aside no more than three hours, which is barely enough time to get all the way around the site.

You start off on your explorations from what was once the main square of Eski Geyre and is now home not just to the photography gallery but also to Aphrodisias' splendid museum, best visited at the end of your tour (but leave plenty of time for it). Most people head straight out from the square, heading for the reconstructed tetrapylon, a monumental gateway erected in the second century, probably at the junction of two main roads. From here a ceremonial walkway may have led to the Temple of Aphrodite, whose existence explains much of the ancient city's wealth and importance.

Today the remains of the temple are far from the most impressive thing to see here. However, the original structure long predated Roman occupation of the site and seems to have started life as a place where a goddess combining the attributes of the ancient Semitic fertility deity, Ishtar and the ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, was worshipped, apparently with much unseemly behavior. Needless to say, the later Christian occupants of the city were less than happy with the temple's reputation and hastily built a Byzantine basilican church over the site of the temple's final incarnation under Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-38). Not content with that, they hacked the cult statue of Aphrodite to pieces and rammed the body into a wall as building material, an ignominious fate from which it has since been rescued.

More impressive to look at are the ruins of the 262-meter-long stadium, probably built in the first or second century and able to seat up to 30,000 spectators in tiers of seats 30 deep. Here the locals held an annual festival that must have been a little like a cut-down version of the Olympic Games and that was apparently modeled on the Pythian Games in Delphi (Greece), with lots of wrestling and racing.

The stadium is a little apart from the main site. Returning from it you pass behind the Temple of Aphrodite and come to the remains of the Bishop's Palace with, right beside it, a dainty little bouleuterion (council house) where small theatrical performances probably took place when it wasn't needed for government business.

Beyond the bouleuterion you will come to the ruins of the baths of Hadrian and then, over a hill, to the fine theater, originally paid for some time between 39 and 27 B.C. by a prominent local citizen called Julius Zoilos, whose statue can be seen in the museum. In the second century B.C. it was extensively altered to accommodate gladiatorial fights and it's that later version that you look down on today.

But at Aphrodisias the very best is also best saved until last, and that is the splendid partially reconstructed Sebasteion, a huge temple complex that, while also paying homage to Aphrodite, was really a shrine to the deified Roman emperors. Most particularly it was a shrine to Augustus (r. 27 B.C.-A.D. 14) and his immediate descendants, Nero and Claudius, who appeared in the carvings adorning the two lofty porticoes that flanked the actual temple. Today those carvings are one of the greatest, yet least-sung glories of Aphrodisias.


The museum

Five years ago the doors of the Aphrodisias Museum reopened to show off one of the finest displays of ancient sculpture to be seen anywhere in the world. In antiquity, the town was well known for a school of sculpture that made use of locally quarried marble to produce exquisite carvings, sometimes entwining black and white marble to stunning effect. According to the Blue Guide travel guidebook, sculptures from Aphrodisias have been found as far afield as Leptis Magna in Libya and Tivoli in Italy. Of course the finest collection is on display here in the local museum.

There are many things to wow the visitor here, not least the battered remains of the statue of Aphrodite removed from the walls of the later church. But in the end everything pales into insignificance the minute you step across the threshold of the new gallery designed to house the original carvings from the Sebasteion. As an anonymous blogger wrote after a visit, “Aphrodisias (Museum) has more reliefs than the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum,” going on to note that only the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, home to the carvings from the Altar of Zeus, has more.

One could no doubt argue over whether the considerably older (fifth century B.C.) Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens are finer pieces of art. The one thing almost anyone who visits this gallery will probably agree on is that it makes the case for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece almost unanswerable. Here you can look at the Sebasteion, then wander into the museum to look at the carvings that once adorned it, then step outside again for another look. What could be more perfect? Why are the crowds not flocking here by the thousands?

Where to stay

There is no accommodation at Aphrodisias itself and only limited accommodation down the road in Geyre. Most people visit the site on tours from Pamukkale, where there is accommodation to suit all tastes either in the village, in the nearby thermal resort of Karahayıt or in Denizli town.

Allgau Pension, Pamukkale. Tel: 0258-272 2028
Hotel Laodikya, Denizli. Tel: 0258-265 1506
Hotel Koray, Pamukkale. Tel: 0258-272 2300
Richmond Pamukkale Thermal Hotel, Karahayıt. Tel: 0258-271 4294


How to get there

The nearest airport to Aphrodisias is in Denizli, which is also easily accessible by train from İzmir and Selçuk. From Denizli there are regular minibuses to Pamukkale and Karahayıt. Pamukkale hotel and pension owners will be able to book a transport-only tour to Aphrodisias for you, although if you drive yourself you will probably be able to spend more time there.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Day tripping İzmir

Day tripping İzmir

Day tripping İzmir
Manisa Festival (Photo: Pat Yale)

Let's face it -- İzmir, right in the middle of Turkey's Aegean coast, is one hell of a big city. So if you're heading from north to south or vice versa you're going to have to decide what to do about it -- factor in the time for a visit or give it a wide berth?

Personally, I think that it's worth spending a few days in İzmir now that the Metro system makes getting about town so much easier than it used to be. That's not only because İzmir itself has plenty of pleasant areas to explore if you allow enough time to get to grips with it but also because it makes a good base for exploring quite a lot of small towns, archaeological sites and resorts nearby, most of the onward transportation to the surrounding areas leaving from the upper floor of the same bus station that will have delivered you to İzmir. Which raises another interesting possibility -- if you don't actually want to stay in a big city you could easily opt to overnight in one of these neighboring places and just hop in and out of İzmir Otogar to get to the others.

The Metro was recently extended to Üçkuyular, site of İzmir's second bus station serving Çeşme, Seferihisar and the Karaburun Peninsula. But let's start off by taking a look at some of the places you can reach from the main otogar.


One of my very favorite small towns has to be Tire, not so long ago an almost forgotten backwater known, if it was known at all, for its big Tuesday street market. Slowly but surely that is starting to change as the local authority wises up to what a treasure it has in its hands, as typified by the recent opening of a pleasing new Kent Müzesi (City Museum) with lots of information on the old handicrafts that are still being practised in the old part of town. The interviews with some of the workers -- helpfully translated into English -- make somewhat sobering reading. With the sole exception of the one with Arif Con, feltmaker extraordinaire, they tell a sad story of trades dying a death with no one to carry them on once the current practitioners are done.

After reading them, it's well worth making a beeline for Con's shop, a buzzing hive of colorful activity where the old and somewhat tired art of feltmaking has been given a completely modern makeover. Out have gone the heavy, square-shouldered coats once made for shepherds. In have come gossamer-fine shawls it would be hard to believe had been made from felt if you'd not seen the work in progress in the shop.

Tire is a place of small pleasures, with a myriad minor mosques, medreses and other monuments dating back to the Beylik period between the Selçuk supremacy and the Ottoman conquest. Some of the old Ottoman housing stock is also being spruced up, most conspicuously in the case of the Gülcüoğlu Konakları (tel: 0232-511 0614), which now serve as a very popular hotel (book ahead midweek). If you can't get in, no matter, because the high-rise Tirem Hotel (tel: 0232-511 0200) right beside the bus stop for İzmir has been given a colorful new look that makes it a decent alternative.


If Tire falls below most people's radars, Bayındır is even less well known despite having a similar mix of attractions. Here, too, the authorities are belatedly waking up to what they have to offer and the old Tekel building was recently converted into another Kent Müzesi, albeit this time with no English translations. Come here to find out about the Efes, the local braves whose bloodthirsty exploits somewhat belie their showy costumes. Here, too, you'll see photographs of local women wearing the siyah çizgi, a black shawl and headscarf combination with a white pattern around its edge. At the Friday market you'll still see older women wearing it but within a generation it will be gone.

Bayındır's main claim to fame is that it lies at the heart of Turkey's flower-growing region. Every year at the end of April/start of May there's a lively flower festival to coincide with the time when the surrounding fields are full of vibrant color for kilometer after kilometer. It's a sight well worth seeing, especially now that the old local government building has been converted into the inviting Suotel (tel: 0232-581 5966).

Ödemiş and Birgi

The strange thing about the siyah çizgi is that although you'll be able to see women wearing it in Bayındır you won't be to buy one there. Instead to buy one you'll have to head for nearby Ödemiş whose Saturday market is almost a match for Tire's Tuesday one, thrusting out tentacles into all the back streets in the center of town. Here, too, there's a fine Kent Müzesi. It's only labeled in Turkish but it won't take much imagination to realize that this was once an area known for its tobacco industry, with entire walls of houses hung with drying leaves in season.

The main reason to come to Ödemiş, however, will be to hop the bus to pretty little Birgi, surely one of Turkey's most delightful villages and where the environmental organization ÇEKÜL has done excellent work in encouraging sensitive signposting and discouraging concrete blight. Birgi is home to the finest Ottoman house open to the public in Turkey. The Çakırağa Konağı is an absolute delight, its front consisting of three floors of open verandahs that give it the strange appearance of a child's toy theater. Nor is that the only gem on offer here. The Ulu Cami is also worth going out of your way to see. Like the minor mosques of Tire, it, too, is a monument to the Beylik period with fine woodwork surviving and odd pieces of Roman masonry reused in the walls.

A stay at the Birgi Çınaraltı Pansiyon (tel: 0537-927 4217) is always a peaceful delight but Ödemiş also rises to a couple of decent options, including the Otel Güven (tel: 0232-509 0909).


Its proximity to İzmir means that people sometimes omit to visit Manisa, a town with an interesting history as one of the places where the early Ottoman princes were sent to learn statecraft. The palace in which they lived has vanished without trace but their presence in the town explains why there's a mosque by Sinan, the Muradiye Cami, in such a seemingly out of the way place.

The Sinan mosque is delightful, its rich tiled interior standing in stark contrast to the town's other splendid mosque, the more austere Ulu Cami, erected in the Beylik period and making copious use of marble columns and capitals filched from an older Roman building.

Manisa Museum should be a winner since it houses the finds from nearby Sardis. Unfortunately it has been closed for restoration for years. Instead you should consider whether you couldn't plan a trip to coincide with the end of March when the town bursts into celebration for the Manisa Mesir Festival, a centuries' old commemoration of the day when a local man, Merkez Efendi, succeeded where other doctors had failed and cured Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent's mother, Hafza Sultan, of debilitating illness with a mixture of 41 ingredients that are now ritually tossed to the waiting crowds from the roof of the Sultan Cami medrese by Ottoman costumed figures. It's a fun day out for all the family.


Manisa Museum may fail to deliver but the nearby archaeological site of Sardis, up the road at Sart, near Salihli, more than makes up for the disappointment. The main site showcases the splendid mosaic pavements of what must have been one of the largest synagogues in ancient Asia Minor, with right beside it, the reconstructed Court of the Hall of the Imperial Cult providing a slight echo of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus.

Up the road and easy to overlook are the romantic ruins of one of the largest temples in the ancient world, dedicated to Artemis and picturesquely set against a mountain backdrop. There's an almost intact Byzantine church hunkered down amid the columns. (to be continued)
Keywords: İzmir , trip

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