From Manisa we travelled to Selçuk, in order to visit the remains of Ephesus. The classical ruins are a mile or two outside the modern town, but there are places of interest in Selçuk itself. The location of Ephesus seems to have moved around a bit over the centuries!
Just opposite our hotel was Alasoluk Hill, with the remains of a large and ornate Byzantine church, built to replace two earlier churches marking the supposed burial place of St John. Beyond the church, at the top of the hill, there is a Byzantine castle.
In the Ephesus Museum, in the town centre, a lot of statues and other artefacts (in various stages of preservation) are brilliantly displayed – we are not big museum fans, but this one was definitely worth a visit. We also saw the Isa Bey mosque, and the Artemision, site of the Temple of Artemis/Diana which was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Now only one pillar is left standing.
Apart from the historical sites, we found the town itself very pleasant. Coming from Manisa, it was a shock to find pedestrianised streets lined with cafés, and certainly no shortage of alcohol. Clearly Selçuk caters for the tourist trade. Sadly, though, we were told several times that this is a very bad year, because the tourists (especially the British) are staying away. To us, Turkey seems so peaceful, it is hard to see why.
One night we had dinner in a beautiful garden café, with candles and gentle music; the food was excellent and the wine cheap, but we were the only people there. The owner said that tourist numbers were 90% down this year. We felt so sorry for the hotel/restaurant owners, who were pathetically grateful for our custom. It made us want to eat and drink more, to help compensate for our missing compatriots – that’s our excuse, and we’re sticking to it!
One thing we noticed was that almost every column in and around the town had a resident stork’s nest on top. Breakfast in our hotel was served on the roof terrace, which put us on the same level as some of these, and gave us a great view of the babies in the nests.
According to the Rough Guide, Ephesus is by far the best preserved of all the classical cities in Turkey – possibly even in the world. It is also the second most visited site in Turkey, after the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. So it was not surprising that – despite what we wrote above – there were lots of people at the site. Most of them apparently are people staying on the coast who come to Ephesus for day trips. And we were told by people who had visited Ephesus before that it was not nearly as crowded as usual.
However, for us, having come from places that were virtually deserted, the crowds seemed enormous. The touts by the entrance and exit gates were something we had not encountered since leaving Istanbul. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our time – nearly four hours – spent exploring the ruins. Highlights were the decorated terrace houses and the ornate front of the Library of Celsus. Although we’d seen several other theatres, this was by far the biggest. Ephesus is almost a complete town, and its size is impressive, although the setting is not as beautiful (in our opinion) as the Acropolis at Pergamon.
We were back from Ephesus with time to spare so paid a brief afternoon visit to Şirince, a hill village some five miles east of Selçuk. It’s a very touristy place, full of shops and cafés vying for the visitors’ cash. Surrounded by vineyards, it produces and sells wine. We did a couple of tastings, but didn’t buy any bottles, as the price was twice what we’ve paid for better-quality wine in the supermarkets.
3 in 1 tour
We thought that Priene sounded interesting, but it is not easy to get to by public transport. By taking a tour, you can combine visits to Miletus and Didyma as well. We booked a group tour, although there was only one other couple on the trip.
At Priene we climbed up a hill to the theatre, church and temple; we saw the council chamber on the way down. In Miletus, there is a huge theatre, with a castle on the top of the hill. There were great views, although it was very windy. We also saw the Baths of Faustina. At Didyma, there is an enormous temple of Apollo, and we saw a group of girls celebrating their graduation from high school.
From Selçuk we travelled east to the village of Pamukkalle, which is famous for its travertine terraces. We’d seen photos and they looked really impressive – a bit like the Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone – so we were keen to visit. Unfortunately the weather was not so good – grey and gloomy when we arrived, pouring with rain later – so we did not see the terraces at their best. But we were determined to make the most of it, so we climbed the ‘travertine path’ in company with hundreds of other people. You cannot avoid walking through shallow water here and there, and there is the option of wading through deeper pools if you wish, but we did not feel tempted! You are not allowed to wear shoes, and it seemed very odd to be wearing cagoules and rain capes while being barefoot.
We thought that a natural wonder would make a complete change from the many ruins we’d seen in the past week. However, Pamukkalle is the site of ancient Hieropolis, and there were plenty of ruins – more than we realised – at the top of the hill. We visited the museum first, and revived ourselves with hot drinks and snacks. By then the rain had all but stopped, although it was still very grey. The ruins are spread over a large area, but we managed to see most of them, including a theatre – we almost didn’t bother because we’d seen so many, but this one has been magnificently restored and was well worth a look.
Before beginning our descent we walked along the rim of the terraces, and saw a bridal couple posing for photos. Later that evening, we saw a wedding party dancing in the street. And next morning, there was some sun (although not the blue sky we would ideally have liked!), so we were able to get some better photos of the terraces before catching the bus to Konya.