Don’t ask, it’s a mystery that will be unravelled later – the film title “Lost in Translation” springs to mind.
It all started at the bright and breezy hour of 7am on Thursday 18th April 2013 with Margaret and myself standing at the roadside near our Kalkan villa waiting for a bus to take us on a two day archaeological tour around some of the recently developed sites of Western Anatolia. The adventure had been organised by that unstoppable and redoubtable pair, MnM (Malcolm and Marian). The bus had been supplied by Volume Travel of Kalkan and with our favourite driver, Ramazan. Today we also have Yiğit to act as translator and fixer.
April in Turkey is a month of dramatic changes in the weather. One day it can be 30C+ the next it is blowing a gale and pouring rain. At night it can be quite balmy or decidedly cold. Basically you have to be prepared for all weathers. Coupled with that, we will be going into the mountains and to heights of between 500 and 1500 metres.
So a happy band of adventurers, seventeen in total, set off westwards along the D400 coastal highway in the direction of Fethiye. This is a familiar route as most of our visits to Turkey start and finish along this road on the way from or back to Dalaman Airport. The route takes us through a whole series of small agricultural communities including Kιnιk and Eṣen, relatively easy to get the tongue around but soon it is Çaykenarı, Alaçat, Çobanlar and Ӧğürlü, complete with all their accents, getting increasingly difficult to master.
As we move into the mountains there is snow even on south-facing slopes and clouds are beginning to build up. After about 50km we turn right following the signpost to Denizli, our ultimate destination for tonight. Immediately we pass through Kemer then start the long climb up over the mountains on a road that is being upgraded to a dual carriageway. The bus has to crawl behind heavily laden lorries of all shapes and sizes. Ramazan, forever cautious, only overtakes when he has clear view of the road ahead. There are now more snow clad mountains, steep sided valleys and forestry plantations. There are also miles and miles of high retaining walls marking the line of the new road and designed to stop the forests sliding onto the road.
The col, when we reach it, is exactly 1300 metres high, more or less the height of the UKs highest mountain Ben Nevis. The view ahead is over rolling countryside and a big lake in the middle distance. Although the sun is warm through the bus windows it looks cold outside. The landscape, glacial in origin, is emerging from winter with lots of green shoots. All the houses have steep red tiled roofs to fend off the snow. There are no Ottoman-style hanging balconies presumably because they could become snow traps. There are a number of marble quarries and a factory where the rock is being carved into usable slabs.
The bus turns left onto a road signposted to Gӧlhisar and Kibyra the first site of our tour. The roadworks continue – is this going to be a super-highway as well? We pass a lime green mosque with orange outbuildings, what a combination of colours!!. As it is now after 8am there are many dolmus full of people going to work. Soon the same dolmus will be laden with children going to school. As usual dogs run out into the road at regular intervals and bark at passing traffic. Ramazan continues to be the safest of drivers and regularly shakes his head at the bad driving of his fellow Turks.
The road has been climbing steadily and we come to a col at 1,595 metres, well over 5,000ft. Then the road goes steeply downhill via long rolling bends to a mountain valley at a mere 1,000m.
The small town of Altınyayla, population 3,600, is on a narrow steep section of the road. In the centre of the town the surface turns to cobbles. It’s noticeable that there are not many people around for 9am Our translator and guide Yiğit tells me that this town is quiet in winter but much busier during the hot summer months when people from Fethiye move in to take refuge from scorching heat of the coast. In the mountains it is relatively cool. We stop at a petrol station to use the facilities. They are rather crude but clean enough. As we’re boarding the bus to head onwards the owner comes out and remonstrates with Yiğit. It seems he wants money, a not unreasonable demand, but none is offered and Ramazan reverses out onto the highway and we’re on our way again.
After about another 20km the bus enters the sizeable town of Gӧlhisar and we take the road signposted to Kibyra. What a treat is in store. It’s a bit early in the day and early in the season so no one is waiting at the entrance to sell us tickets or hand out brochures. We head on up to the site. Getting off the bus we enter “one of the most magnificent and complete stadiums in Anatolia” dating back to the 2nd/3rd centuries AD. It consists of a large oval about 200 metres long and maybe 40 metres wide running North/South. On the Western side there are 21 tiers of stone seats built into the hillside and almost completely intact whilst to the Eastern side there had been 8 tiers of seating but these have collapsed or the stones have been taken to be used for other purposes. There was seating capacity for more than 10,000 people – quite a crowd. At the top of the main tier of seating there are the bases of columns which the archaeologists plan to reconstruct. Sitting on the upper rows of seating there is a superb view over the stadium and out over Gӧlhisar and the surrounding countryside. At one time there was a large lake here maybe 10km in diameter. Today only a small stretch of water remains glinting on the far side of the plain.
There’s more to see some ½ km up the hillside. Normally the site attendants will open a gate allowing the bus to drive up to the rest of the site, but not today. The decision is taken to use another road and see how close it gets. Reaching a dead-end at the top of a narrow track with no ruins in sight, it was back to entrance and ask for the key. Apart from a barking dog – fortunately tethered by an iron chain – there was no one around. A few phone calls elicited the news that the attendant has gone “walkabout” and wouldn’t be back for ½ hour. There was no other answer than to start walking.
Reaching the upper site we were in for more archaeological treats. The first structure is the Agora or marketplace. There is a wide paved area running the length of Agora and “shops” along the sides. An intriguing feature is a large stone open topped tank with a pipe running into it. This was the fishmongers shop and fresh fish caught in the big lake were kept in the tank awaiting customers. Some of the shops had scoops out of the rock ledges which would have formed the counters. These scoops were used to measure quantities of grain – very practical.
A short walk further up the hill takes us to the amphitheatre. It looks as though no restoration work has been done to this building so it is remarkable how well preserved it is. The seating area, with capacity for about 9,000 people, has been carved out of the hillside.
Moving to the left, the next building is the Odeon/Bouleuterion. It had the dual function of a music hall and a parliament building – no comment. A lot of work done has been done and it is very impressive. In front of the building is a large area covered with plastic which, in turn, is covered by several centimetres of fine gravel. It turns out that underneath all this protection is the largest mosaic every discovered in Anatolia. (Later on we see some photographs which show how truly magnificent it is.) The final structure on view are the baths. The baths consist of a number of rooms with raised stone floors and an elaborate system of pipes to get hot and cold water to the appropriate rooms. One room, which would have been the steam room, had spaces for fires to be lit below the stone flooring. The fore-runner of the modern Turkish bath.
By the time we got back to the Agora our bus is waiting along with the site attendant. We were taken back to the very small museum at the entrance to the site. The museum was essentially a small room with a big table in the middle and lots of photographs and artists impressions of the site. And it was here that we were given copies of the official brochure, written in English and published by the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism General Directorate of Publicity. On the front cover it proudly announced “Kibyra – The city of heroic warriors and spankers” – yes SPANKERS.
Our collective minds went into overdrive. Had we missed the brothel? What kind of musicals did they perform at the Odeon? Did they have spanking races in the stadium? Try as we might no plausible answer could be found. Then we had a collective brainwave. Let’s get a copy of the Turkish language version of the brochure and see what the equivalent word was in Turkish. No luck. The Turkish version had a different layout, much more detail but no slogan on the front page. We had drawn a blank. And now three days later having consulted numerous dictionaries, on-line translators, a Turkish Thesaurus and a local archaeologist the answer is revealed.
It’s a cautionary tale. When using a foreign language dictionary to translate a word always take the answer and play it back in reverse through the dictionary to see if it makes sense. It turns out that the translator at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism was trying to find the English word for a Turkish word. He fed it into his translation tool and out popped “Spanker”. Why? Because he had fed in the word “racehorses” and in the 18th century in England there was a breed of racehorses called Spankers. How bad can one’s luck get? So now we know that in addition to “heroic warriors” Kibyra was famous for racehorses. Indeed, looking again at the cover of the Turkish language brochure for the site, there is a bust of a soldier wearing a helmet and a man riding a galloping horse.
The journey to Denizli was on a very smooth dual carriageway. We were soon all in the land of nod. It had been an early start. I woke up to a view over Denizli with a man-sized Turkish flag flying in the foreground. And then, unusually for Ramazan, the bus executed a U-turn across the fast and busy highway and came to a halt in the car park of the Teras restaurant. It was time for lunch. To get to the actual dining room required a major ascent of a steep staircase till we were high above the road. The food was mostly very good. I can highly recommend the lamb kavurma washed down with ayran. The bill for two courses and the ayran plus lots of fresh unleavened bread came to 46TL for the two of us. Not bad.
After lunch we headed through the city via a series of underpasses beautifully decorated with fresh yellow flowers. As we got to the other side of the city centre there were a series of ornamental flower beds depicting the Turkish Evil Eye Pendant (or the Nazar Boncuğu) and other typically Turkish symbols. Very stylish.
We started to leave the city behind and ahead of us was a long straight road. In the distance you could see the unmistakeable sight of Pamukkale which translated means the Cotton Castle. What you see is a pure white hillside about 2,700 metres (8,860 ft) long, 600 m (1,970 ft) wide and rising about 160 m (525 ft). The white coloured rock is a form of calcium carbonate called travertine. Hot spring water, at about 35C, carries dissolved calcium and carbon dioxide. As it flows from above over the hillside, the calcium and the CO2 combine to make the mineral calcium carbonate. We are watching the rocks of the future being laid down. Geology lesson over.
For more information there is plenty on the web including spectacular photos.
This being an archaeological trip, the main reason for our visit to Pamukkale is to walk through the ancient city of Hierapolis. The bus takes us to almost the highest point of the city and we’re told it will be waiting for us some 3km away beside the Necropolis at the city’s lowest point.
There is a 20TL entry charge. Those members of the party with resident’s permits (Ikamet) have been able to buy an annual museum pass for 50TL which gives free entry to all sites – a definite bonus. There is a collection of souvenir shops and cafés around the entrance but most of us avoid them and head straight into the site. There’s a signpost just inside the gate giving directions to the main features and sitting on top of the sign is a plump skylark singing away like mad, presumably trying to attract a mate, after all it is springtime.
To my mind, the outstanding features of Hierapolis are the amphitheatre and the museum. The theatre is being completely restored and by 2015 will be ready to host classical concerts and opera in the same manner as the theatre at Aspendos near Antalya. We sit and watch the craftsmen (both men and women) at work and admire their attention to detail. In the museum, which has an extra admission charge of 5TL, there are excellent displays of artefacts collected from around the site. There are busts and statues, ornaments both large and small and a collection of coins. There is also a large collection of sarcophagi each with a reclining model of the incumbent on the lid. Touchingly, one has a model of a couple, the woman resting against the man. Another, less than a metre square, is topped by a heart-wrenching model of a baby.
Part of the walk through the city is along the rim of the white travertine sediments. There’s an opportunity to take your shoes off and dip your toes in the warm waters. Some people have brought swimming trunks and are lying almost submerged.
Eventually we get to the necropolis and a small café. It sells Efes beer, wine and rakı as well as cold and hot drinks. It’s been a hot afternoon and definitely time for a cold beer.
Once we’re all assembled, it’s on to the bus for a 20 min drive back to Denizli and our hotel for the night. The Laodicea Hotel is appropriately named as that is the name of the site we will be visiting in the morning. The bedrooms are well appointed. Ours is at the front and overlooks an enormous building project. We have been warned it will be noisy but we didn’t hear a single drill or hammer all night long.
The hotel restaurant has essentially a fixed menu. The food is just about passable. Margaret asks for a glass of white wine. As soon as she tastes it there is clearly something wrong. I take a sip and pronounce it heavily “fortified” with water. The waiter is called and he sheepishly takes it away explaining that there is no more white wine but would she like rosé. That sounds fine and the wine is brought in a glass that is much closer in size to a thimble than a goblet. OK – a refill can be ordered. However, when Margaret tries to get one she is told that there is now no rosé!! At least she won’t have a headache in the morning.
Next morning, after a comfortable night, we go down to breakfast. What a contrast to dinner. This is a feast. One big table is laden with many different cheeses, raw vegetables, honey, jam, cereals, nuts, etc etc and a choice of 3min or 5min boiled eggs. Another has various hot dishes including cheese boreks, sausages, meat and cheese pastries, etc, etc. Yet another table has an assortment of fresh breads. Finally there is an urn of Turkish çay and hot water to make Nescafé or hot chocolate. All this really sets us up for the day ahead.
Laodicea is right on the outskirts of Denizli so the bus journey is a mere 15 minutes. At the entrance we stopped at the barrier. When one or two of the party, from inside the bus, waved their Museum Cards and it was assumed that we all had them so the bus was waved through. We didn’t feel too guilty as we’ve given lots of money to Turkish museums over the years. The driveway takes us up to a car park and small shop.
The city was first established around 5,500 BC. It went through many political and ethnic changes and a number of major earthquakes till eventually in Byzantine times around the 7th century AD it suffered an overwhelming earthquake and was abandoned forever. Over the centuries following each earthquake the city underwent major reconstruction and, sometimes, redesign . What can be seen today is mostly from the Roman and Byzantine eras stretching from the 1st to the 7th century AD. What we see is a city designed on the grid system. The main street, Syria Street, running East-West and a parallel street, Ephesus Street, form the highways along with a cross street, Stadium Street that runs North-South. All the minor streets follow the grid pattern.
The most restored building was imaginatively called Temple A. Apart from columns and courtyards, the most interesting bit was the glass floor which allowed you to see right down into a very large vaulted crypt. Some of the party found walking on glass over a void some 10 or 15 metres deep too much to take.
There are two amphitheatres the larger one having been constructed when the population grew too large for the first one. They are both scooped out of the hillside and the seating is more or less intact. The stadium, on the southern boundary of the site, is now just a large oval scoop in the ground. It measures some 285 metres by 70 metres and had an estimated capacity 25,000 people.
For me the most fascinating feature of the whole site was the water distribution and drainage systems. The main water supply came from springs in the mountains to the south. As the city is on high ground, there must have been enclosed pipes to feed the water from the springs to the city. Near the stadium there is a most impressive water distribution system. It stands about 7 metres high and takes in the spring water and distributes it into a range of terracotta pipes of different capacities that then take the water to the places where it was needed. The biggest pipe ran right across the city to a point near Ephesus Street where another water terminal distributed water to most of the inner city. A third water terminal was used to feed the water fountain in the Nymphaeum and the pool of the Latrina which had a capacity for about 80 people. And finally another water terminal to the North of Syria Street was used to supply water after the major earthquake of 494 AD. And as if this wasn’t enough, there was a comprehensive drainage system which is still visible in the form of channels running below the main streets.
The visit to the site was concluded in the café over a nice cup of coffee.
Just before passing onwards there has to be a mention of the wild flowers. The range and colour of flowers at each of the sites has been amazing. A special mention has to made of the humble poppy. The variety in this area is a very dark red, almost magenta, with a black core. Really lovely.
The final stop of the trip was to another kind of temple – the modern day shops of Buldan. This is a textiles town and there are a number of streets where all the shops are selling household linens, cotton rugs and some clothing. Unusually for Turkey, most things are priced and there is no need to haggle. When we purchased a few things in one shop a discount was given in a very straightforward manner. And if you decided not to buy you were not pestered for not buying from their shop. A very relaxing experience.
After lunch in a friendly lokanta, it was time to board the bus for the journey home. Since leaving Kalkan there had been occasional threats of rain but, apart from a small shower, nothing happened. Now it started to rain first a little slowly and then more and more heavily. As we climbed into the mountains we could even see tornadoes, albeit at some distance. If it was going to rain it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
We arrived back in Kalkan not long after 7pm, 36 hours after leaving. What an amazing amount had been packed into such a short time. We’ve seen some truly fascinating sites. Apart from Pamukkale none of them are on the regular tourist trail yet. Watching the craftsmen at work at Hierapolis and Laodicea was a real experience. At this time of year they can work during the day but in a few weeks time it will be early starts and late finishes with long rests during the heat of the day. We are lucky to observe archaeology in action.
This was an excellent tour and one that is available to anyone staying on the Turkish Western Mediterranean and Southern Aegean. It can be accomplished entirely by public transport but will probably take an extra day. Go out and enjoy it.