Aphrodisias and Pamukkale

Aphrodisias is one of the most magnificent and extensive archaeological sites of Turkey.  Because it is slightly off the beaten track it does not get as crowded as some sites which means that you get space to visit at your own pace and without thousands of tour parties. The top attractions include the Temple of Aphrodite (the Greek Godess of Love after whom the site is named), the Stadium (it doesn’t take much imagination to see ancient Greek athletes racing round the track) and the Portico of Tiberius (recently restored to its former glory).  There is an extensive, modern museum of artefacts where you can explore the history of the site – in the shade.  (see www.aphrodisias.com for more details)  Remember, many Turkish historical sites and museums are closed on Mondays.
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A trip to Aphrodisias can be accomplished by car in a single day from Kalkan but that means you will be exploring the vast, open-air site in the heat of the day and missing out on all that there is to see along the way.  Far better to make it a two or three day outing leaving Kalkan on day one and travelling across the mountains to Denizli, a major centre of the Turkish cottonand textiles industry and on the Turkish national rail network.  From Denizli proceed onwards to the nearby town of Pamukkale to visit the famous rock structures in the early evening when the light is at its very best.  (For more details about Pamukale see www.pamukkale.net.)  On the second day travel to Aphrodisias as early in the day as possible so that you can start the tour of the site before the sun is at its hottest.  At the end of the day either travel directly back to Kalkan or stay overnight on the way.

The journey is straightforward by car but, for the more adventurous traveller who wants to get a better feel for Turkey, it can all be accomplished by public transport.  From Kalkan take the Bati Antalya or the Metro Mini from the Kalkan Otogar to Fethiye.  At Fethiye you are dropped at the main bus station and change there for a bus to Denizli.  There are several competing services so check the actual departure times with each company.  Beware, in their desire for your business, you can be given misleading information.  “Get on this bus, it is leaving in a few minutes” can usually be interpreted to mean “we’re not leaving for half or three quarters of an hour but I don’t want you to get on the competitor’s bus that leaves in 5 mins”.   The bus we took went more or less due north through the mountains on a very scenic route.  It took a break in the town of Çameli, a lively market town where you can get refreshments or just stretch your legs.  Once in Denizli you can catch a local bus for the short journey to Pamukkale.

Pamukkale is one of the most amazing natural geological sites in Turkey.  The name Pamukkale derives from the two words Pamuk, meaning cotton and Kale, meaning keep or castle.  And that is what you see, a hillside covered in billows of white rock.  The rock is a form of limestone built up over the years as deposits from the water bubbling up from the underground thermal springs in the area.  It is part of a larger UNESCO World Heritage site that is shares with the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis, a religious city built to take advantage of the hot springs.   Hierapolis, well worth a visit, is a relatively compact site  so it does not take too long to see the main attractions.

For the overnight stop you can either find a hotel in Pamukalle, a bit of a tourist town with little Turkish character and lots of souvenir shops, or head back to Denizli where you will find yourselves in a totally Turkish city where tourists are few and far between.  For my money Denizli is a far better experience – and I have stayed in both.   As Denizli is an important commercial centre there are plenty of hotels to choose from at very reasonable prices.  There are also an abundance of restaurants, mostly lokanta style, where the food is very reasonably priced.

The next morning start your journey to Aphrodisias as early as possible so that you can walk round the site in the relative cool of the morning.  Buses (usually dolmus) leave from the bus station – ask your hotel to find out the times for you.

Aphrodisias is a very large site and you need about half a day to see all of the important buildings.  A site map and guidebook are essential otherwise you are likely to get lost or miss the very best.  The site has been undergoing major development over the last 10 years.  Between our first visit in 1993 to our last in 2010 the changes have been dramatic and wholly for the better.

For my money the most fascinating building is the Stadium, in part because it has not been restored but left as it was found.  The track area is some 252 metres by 59 metres and has a seating capacity for 30,000 people.  Sitting on one of the rows of seats today it needs little imagination to see the athletes racing round the track below and you can easily find yourself cheering them on.  And, as elsewhere around Aphrodisias, the lack of hordes of visitors leave you really feeling transported back in time.  It is a unique experience.

After visiting all of the areas that fascinate you, move back towards the administration centre where you can get food and drink, albeit of a fairly simple nature.  (You can also get more substantial meals back at the main road where you turned into the site.)  The early afternoon can then be spent in the relative cool of the splendid museum which has well over ten thousand artefacts unearthed at the site.  Some artefacts date back to the Bronze Age (5,000 BC) but the majority are from the Hellenic period when Aphrodisias was a major city.

At then end of the afternoon, if you are travelling by car, then you can head back to Kalkan.  For those travelling by bus, you will be able to get back to Denizli but may be too late for the last bus to Fethiye.  Much better to spend another night in Denizli and then have a leisurely journey back to Fethiye the next morning, have a meal in the fish market and catch the last bus back to Kalkan.  Or do as we did and spend a night in a hotel in Fethiye and go to the fish market at night when it is transformed into a totally different place from the daytime scene.  All the tables are full, but they will always squeeze you in, there is live music and lots of loud conversations.  And an added bonus, the Turks way out number the tourists.

Directions – This blog is no substitue for a good travel guide or a map, but here is some information to help you start your planning.  If  you are using Google Maps for directions the reference point is the village of Geyre.  The total distance from Kalkan to Geyre is about 280km and if travelling by car you should allow between 4 and 5 hours each way for the journey.  To Denizli from Kalkan is about 250km and from Denizli to Aphrodisias is about 100km.  Denizli to Pamukkale is just under 30km and will take less than 1/2 hour by car or bus.

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About Clashgour

With my wife Margaret I am spending a happy retirement divided between our flat in Richmond, London, our villa in Kalkan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast and travelling mostly in the UK, Turkey and the US. When travelling we use public transport where possible, resorting to a car when it is the only viable option. This blog is an occasional diary of our travels.
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2 Responses to Aphrodisias and Pamukkale

  1. John Fed says:

    Great article Alan. Aphrodisias is a gem of a place, and probably overlooked by many. It is one of the best places in Turkey to visit. The museum is packed with excellent exhibits.

    I hope your article will inspire others to take a look for themselves.

    And Pamukkale is not bad either!

  2. kim jones says:

    Great post Alan, loving the armchair travelling in front of our wood-burner whilst planning our trips for next year which of course will include Aphrodisias. Kim x

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