What a great birthday weekend Jamie gave me. He drove us for over 840km round southern Turkey to some of the best archaeological sites in the Mediterranean. And he had a cold. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I love him.
We left late on Saturday, so headed straight for Pamukkale and Hierapolis. To reach the spectacular Roman city of Hierapolis you have to walk barefoot up a calcium covered mountainside. Why barefoot? Because it is a UNESCO world heritage site that has been eroded away in the past by hordes of tourists. Pamukkale means “Cotton Castle”, which is exactly what the cliff looks like. Hot spring water falls down from the plateau carrying tiny particles of calcium which over millennia have formed travertine pools, stalagmites and stalactites. It looks like a fairy wonderland. You can’t walk in the pools any more, but you can walk up the calcium covered path alongside, through ever warmer water. It felt like bliss on our teak-deck weary feet.
Once at the top of the ridge we were struck by the beauty of the setting and the cleverness of the Romans in choosing to put a city there. It has everything. A bath house or two, theatres, temples, agoras, streets, arches, a necropolis, a splendid latrine and even a Plutonium spring which gives off deadly poisonous gas that still kills today. We had quite looked forward to bathing in the “Sacred Pool”, but were disappointed that a rather less than divine swimming pool with some old bits of rocks and columns at the bottom of it had been turned into a tourist attraction. A brash sign announced the entrance to the “Antique Pool” and once through we were met with a restaurant, bar, tourist shops and banging Turkish pop music. We walked round it, watching some fat and pasty looking people splashing about, and hastily left. This was in marked contrast to the museum next door (unfortunately closed) which is housed in the very elegant and imposing Bath House.
It is difficult to choose a “best bit” because the city as a whole works so well, but the theatre takes some beating. Situated near the top of the ridge, with views looking steeply down across the valley for miles and miles it seats 12,000 people. It is in good condition (including the inevitable restoration, apparently by Italians in the 1970s) with most of the stage in place and the seating in very good order. Strangely I also greatly enjoyed walking through the Necropolis and exploring some of the tombs.
We stayed at the Beyaz Kale Pension in Pamukkale village, where we dined on home cooked food. It’s quite a pretty little village, considering the hordes of tourists that must pass through it all year round. Unfortunately, but like a lot of places in Turkey, they overdo the hard sell by trying to get you to eat in their restaurant or stay at their pension. When we first arrived we were flagged down and chased up the road by men on mopeds. Needless to say we didn’t favour any of these places and ended up staying with the lovely Haçer instead, who just smiled and made us welcome when we stepped through her gate.