There is something about Turkey that cannot be described using words. The name of the country invokes a sense of past glories and images of triumphant Central Asian armies come to mind. A large country, Turkey straddles the European and Asian continents and has been recently added as one of the playgrounds of Europe’s wealthy. Refer here for the map of the route we are about to take.
Today, it is more than just rich Europeans who head to Turkey. We too have been able to access the immense treasures that this country has to offer. While Istanbul is a gateway and the subject of many writers, we want to bring to life the beauty of central Turkey, far from the bustling beat of the modern metropolis.
Yes we embarked out of the city if Istanbul and are headed into the “heartlands” of the country.
First, let’s talk about love
If you head to Turkey, one of the places you must not miss is the cascades at the Cotton castle. To get there, we took a 45 minute flight out of Istanbul and traveled approximately 360km to the little town of Denizli, as we commenced our round central Turkey drive journey.
As we circled to land in Denizli, we saw vast plains of salt flats in what seems to be desert. There were large patches of white (possibly crystallized salt) and some bodies of water drying out… which yes upon landing was confirmed to be salt farms. But it ain’t just common table salt. This is industrial salt – a sulphate and not a chloride. Not destined for dining table for sure. So don’t go a licking these patches of white…
Upon touchdown, we took our luggage and loaded up the coach that was to be with us for the next 9 days. The city of Aphrodias was our destination and our first stop was at the Tetra pylon, the gate to the Temple of Aphrodite. It is well preserved, with local archaeologists re-constructing it by piecing the blocks together – like a giant puzzle. Our guide informed that we can see concrete slabs sometimes – as they were inserted if the originals cannot be found. You might also know here as in many places the locals (in the past) have often pilfered stones from ancient sites for building materials.
Have you ever noticed that the columns look straight even from a distance? Typically, roads and columns tend to converge the further it is from view. Anyone know about Ponzo illusion? The Romans and Greeks had devised a way in which the columns are built tapered – so that is appears straight and not bent even from a distant. Incredible huh? Here we are at the remains of the temple of Aphrodite – or the Greek Goddess of Love, also known as Venus to the Romans. While there are only 14 Ionic columns left. There was said to be 40 when it was in its heyday.
We eventually walked to the stadium, said to be one of the best preserved in the region. It is 262m long and 59m wide with 22 rows of seats. It has the capacity of 30,000 spectators – very large in those days for a city. Probably founded by the Assyrians, the city was named Aphrodias in the 2nd Century BC. This ancient city is known for its sculptures and boasted of philosophers and scholars.
We found a collection of carvings piled one on top of another at a corner of the site. There must have been well over 100 of such face carvings of mainly men in various poses and age. While we are not sure where they adorned, the carvings must surely be in a centerpiece of some part of the buildings in the city famed for sculptures. So intriguing right?
There is a museum building where many of the treasures found at this site are housed and displayed. Can’t leave out a mention of the cats, in fact kittens. Lots of them! Mel got sidetracked and only with a great pull from Suan did he refocused. For there is a hoard of ancient coins, jewellery and other objects used in everyday life in the museum– such a marvel of preservation. You must spend time in there because it is truly remarkable and probably just the tip of the iceberg. No photos though…
As we walked out of the site, we could see numerous sarcophagi dotting the grounds. Mainly for the wealthy people, many were damaged when tomb raiders saw through them. Some of the treasures on display came from them. Can you imagine how much was lost?
If we were on our own we probably can spend a whole day here. But alas the group leader hailed out to us stragglers and soon we continued on our journey after lunch to the famous “Cotton Castle” or cascading thermal pools.
It is named as such, because it is located on top of a “white castle” near the ruins of the Byzantine city of Hierapolis (we did not walk there). The area is white due to the immense amount of mineral water that gushes out from the underground spring. This abundance of underground water is heated by the geothermal vents deep underground. We saw see the steam rising out of the hillside as the coach arrived at the site.
The carbonate that deposit minerals after the flow of water had turned the whole area white. But why is this the case? Where is the water? From our photos you might believe that the flow has dried up. No it has not. It’s simply because the flow of this precious mineral water had been diverted to feed nearby spas and hotels. Money talks and these establishments get first rights to the water. Thus one will see mainly dried out cascades and very little ones that are filled with azure blue water! Well, now you know better when you see an Instagram photo claiming to be in the midst of many cascading mineral falls… so not true.
Our guide also told us that the region of Denizli has intensive cotton cultivation. This crop is thirsty for water, and the abundant underground water of the area supports this large agriculture base, which in turn supports the giant textile industry that Turkey is known for. Hmm… would this be the reason why the cascades are fondly named cotton castle? Since cotton is also white… did you make that connection too? Today you can walk down a man-made cascade at one side and feel the enriching warm waters run round your legs. But alas the crowd had come in (they never seem to end) and made it rather difficult to stay to enjoy the waters exclusively.
We had our meal at a local spa hotel just below the cascades and it became clear why the waters are diverted. These resorts are swanky and they are frequented by high paying guests. Quite unlike us who wanted to soak in the water for free!
It is possible to take a coach for the journey from Istanbul to Denizli, though it would probably take several hours. Many local tourists come this way and busloads of folks literally spill into the cascades all day long. So the experience isn’t what the brochures and bloggers may claim it to be. On the other hand the Aphrodias was largely unvisited at the time of our journey, largely because there was a dearth of local tourists. The contrast could be not more evident.
Anyway it was time to continue here for the next leg of our journey to yet more Greek heritage sites!
This Journey took place in October 2010