Aphrodisias and more

Following a recent article in the Bodrum Bulletin about driving to Ephesus and Pamukkale by car, we decided to do the same trip. We stayed in the same hotel (the excellent Venus Hotel) and spent the morning exploring Pamukkale and ancient Hierapolis.

Red SpringsAfter visiting Pamukkale we returned to the village and then drove along the base of the escarpment to Karahayıt, a very Turkish thermal resort town with many new hotels springing up, to visit the kırmızı su bahçesi (red water garden) where warm water bubbles out of iron-rich red-stained rock. It is a peaceful garden setting, with beds full of roses and ornamental pomegranate trees. There were small pools here suitable for paddling, a number of souvenir shops, and mud baths where massage was also available. Not a bathing suit in sight here. Entrance is free. Two camels were providing “taxi rides” and therefore photo opportunities for the children. There was quite a large covered refreshment area and a notice on the gate warns that alcoholic drinks are not available. The main road through the town was being re-surfaced so traffic was diverted into a rough and ready one-way system. After you enter the town follow the signs towards the town centre. There is a large red coloured fountain formed by mineral deposits. Follow the road straight ahead but which passes to the left of this. The kırmızı su bahçesi is on the right side as you start to go down the hill before leaving the town.

We were the only foreigners there and it was fascinating to see a bit more local colour. A coachload of school children arrived while we were there and one or two of them tried out their English on us. We were offered the opportunity to partake of a mud bath or to have a massage. Perhaps next time.

We then drove from Pamukkale back to Denizli and, following the signs to Antalya, drove for what seemed like ages through the back streets of Denizli where traffic had been diverted because of the road re-surfacing taking place there as well. Denizli was a surprisingly large town. We then drove up a long, innocent-seeming slope, into the mountains and up on to the plateau. We turned off at the signs to Tavas/Aphrodisias and crossed the high upland plateau. The soil was obviously very fertile here, with fields of olive, pomegranates and walnut trees stretching away on either side. Perhaps it was this obvious fertility that first attracted the Romans into settling here, otherwise it seems a pretty remote part of the world in which to establish a major site dedicated to the worship of the goddess Aphrodite.

At Geyre we turned off to the left, following the signs to Aphrodisias, but were sharply informed that we couldn’t park there although there was plenty of parking. We went back to the main road and parked in the car park on the opposite side of the road, paying 7TL for the privilege (which also included the cost of being shuttled by tractor back to the site entrance). (The very informative brochure provided by the Venus hotel had warned that we might have to pay 4TL to park the car and 4TL per person for the shuttle). We arrived about lunchtime and ate a picnic lunch before visiting the site. There were half a dozen coaches already there but most of the visitors appeared to be Turkish. Foreign visitors, like ourselves, appeared to visit on an independent basis as we saw a Dutch and a Belgian-registered car in the car park.  The tractor shuttle seemed to operate quite frequently and we didn’t have long to wait. In fact we were the only people in it. It would be quite easy to walk the 500m down to the site entrance if you were younger and fitter than our party was. We paid our 8TL per person entrance fee and passed through the turnstile into a well developed area.

Ruin HorseWe decided to start our visit in a vast hall filled with remnants of stone statuary on either side. The figures depicted, in various states of repair, were of mythical characters and real people. The quality of the stonework was quite remarkable and some of them were still in very good condition. The stonework had originally been in the upper tiers of one of the largest buildings in the complex. What particularly impressed me was a sculpture, in blue marble, of a racing horse. Originally the horse had a rider, although all that is left of the rider now is part of its thigh. The sculpture displays an extraordinary sense of speed and vitality. The rest of the museum was closed at the time of our visit.

RuinsWe walked through the grassed area where a number of stone sarcophagi and pithoi (large amphorae) were displayed and walked through to the main part of the site.
Our guide book, the Rough Guide, described the site thus: “Situated on a high plateau over 600m above sea level, ringed by mountains and watered by a tributary of the Büyük Menderes, Aphrodisias is among the most isolated and beautifully set of Turkey’s major archaeological sites. Acres of marble peek out from among the poplars and other vegetation that cloaks the remains of one of imperial Rome’s most cultured Asian cities. Late afternoon visits have the bonus of often dramatic cloud formations, spawned by the elevation, and the attendant dappled lighting.”

I found this site to be much more attractive than the tourist over-ridden Efes. There were masses of wildflowers everywhere – a huge variety of grasses, thistles and poppies and birdsong all around. Two gardeners were fighting what must be a never-ending battle to clear some of the paths from the invading undergrowth.

StadiumStadium 2


Somehow we managed to walk the loop path in the wrong direction so inadvertently may have missed some of the buildings. However, the stadium, which we had been specifically encouraged to see, was breathtaking – 270m in length, with an area at one end designated for gladiatorial games or battles against wild animals – and with a seating capacity of 30,000, was one of the most extraordinary sights I have ever seen. Amphitheatres I had previously seen paled into insignificance when compared to this (the first stadium I had ever seen).

There were the inevitable souvenir stands and an excellent exhibition of photographs, ancient and modern, of scenes of village life and the complex in earlier times. Although there were refreshment facilities and toilets in the entrance area of the site we didn’t partake as we still had some picnic food in the car.

After leaving Aphrodisias we drove north to Nazilli, missing what we had hoped would be a short cut, and then turning south to head back to Yatağan and thence to Bodrum. The map indicated that the section between Nazilli and Bozdoğan was a scenic route but we felt that the scenic section only really began at Bozdoğan. We caught sight of the huge and desperately untidy masses of a number of stork’s nests on top of electricity pylons with the parent birds’ heads sticking up above them. In the mountains the road twisted and turned providing panoramic views of the valley far below us. Wildflowers carpeted the woodland floors. The marble quarry area around Yatağan provided unforgettable sights of house walls constructed from marble offcuts. The wooded hillsides around Kavaklidere were most attractive and would undoubtedly reward further exploration.

Just south of Kavaklidere we encountered the aftermath of a terrific hailstorm (the second we’d experienced in two days) and the verges were still whitened by the quantity of hailstones that had fallen. Torrential rain accompanied us almost all the way back to Yalıkavak, making road conditions treacherous, especially with cars driving right on our tail.

Written by Traveller 24.05.09