Aphrodisias: Etched in Stone.

Aphrodisias is one of the most underrated of all roman sites I have visited. Many have heard of Ephesus, but Aphrodisias has it all: a nearly intact stadium, a fantastic agora, beautiful scenery and location but also the mysterious Temple of Aphrodite, the patron god that gives the sight its namesake. Located on the road to Denizli, it is located slightly off  the Meander river valley, in which many ancient cities have arisen. The mountains form a beautiful backdrop to the city’s fertile valley. Aphrodisas was in what was called Caria, one of the many ancient cultures (Pisidian, Phrygians, etc) that was swallowed up by the Romans and Muslims over time. 

It was famous for its marble artisans, possessing many schools dedicated to this pursuit. The city was famous for its great number of temples and public buildings constructed of this stone. It maintained its independence and security by allying with Rome and being off the main thoroughfare of the Meander valley, hence avoiding marauding armies. It was a relatively small city (10k people) but it’s stadium (30k capacity), Temples (Aphrodite) and festivals made it a popular pilgrimage  destination. . 

Perhaps the most important aspect of Aphrodisias was its namesake: the sacred prostitution cult of Aphrodite. The world’s oldest profession to the temple was conducted to attract visitors as well as maintain revenue for its upkeep. Sources claim that followers of Aphrodite had to make themselves “available” once in their life to demonstrate their devotion. They would have to stay at the temple until the deed was consecrated, sometimes rather quickly if she was pretty, longer if she was somewhat homely. Some might have been slaves or guilty of adultery, all were female. 

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The entrance was commemorated by the Tetrapylon, an eight column portal which the visitors would commence their adventure. It was followed by a garden courtyard then forty Ionic columns of the temple itself. Today the Tetrapylon has been reconstructed, giving Aphrodisias a remarkable touch. In later years, the Temple was repurposed to become a church, clearly pagan gods were not accepted after the adoption of Christianity in the 4th century. 

Another great attraction to the ruins are of the stadium, the largest and best preserved in Turkey, and possibly the Roman world. Situated astride the east-west perimeter of the city, it was utilized for all the typical functions: chariot races, gladiatorial contests, Christian sacrifices and later, after earthquakes in the 7th century, a theater. It is in remarkable condition, seemingly ready for its next contest. The weather was perfect, so I sat beneath an olive tree, taking in the atmosphere. I talked with a painter, he was traveling with his girlfriend in a van, enjoying the winter weather and creating an oil painting of the stadium.

Other highlights included the Bouleuterion for civic discussions, a large Agora which included a huge, oval pool. There were many examples of the fine stone craftsmanship, theaters and bath houses. Later that night, I ate my first meal indoors in months, and slept next to the highway in the campground. 

The following day I visited a great site, albeit not as immense as Aphrodisias,by the name of Kybyria. It was located with a tremendous view of the mountains and Mt. Dag. It had beautiful pine trees, adorned with an outstanding theater and Odeum. Lots to uncover, they are still trying to figure out most of the city’s outline. The town of Golhisar was small and unassuming.  But the views were fantastic.


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Valley of the “Frigs” & Aizanoi

Jotted along the route are various small Turkish villages with weathered mud brick and stone designs, tiled roofs and wood burning chimneys puffing away. Dogs scattered about and people sitting in the sun drinking tea or doing repairs to their depilated roofs or stuccoed sides. All were friendly, waved and said “Merhaba” as I drove cautiously through the tight and windy streets. The weather had cleared and was wonderful. 

After wandering through Ayanzini to see a 10th century Byzantine church I headed to Midas Kenti or  Midas city to see the “Yazilikaya” (Inscribed Rock). Located  some 40 kms further north east on the road to Eskişehir, it sits astride the village of Yazili. The site is about 1300 meters above sea level on a plateau that dominates the valley, which would have controlled foot traffic from the surrounding area in all directions. Yazilkaya was a monument to King Midas, carved directly into a face of solid rock, some 2500 years ago. It is roughly 25 meters by 16m and has a small niche which supposedly housed a statue of the deity ‘Cybele’ or commonly called “Matar” by the Phrygians. The façade was decorated with a linear interwoven motif and adorned with the lost language of the Phrygians. It was from this decipherment of the inscription that they were able to discern its relation to King Midas, or at least “one” of the kings, for his subsequent ancestors aptly honored his name with a lineage of duly named royalty. 

Midas Monument

Circumventing the Yazilkaya, you find a similar unfinished monument, allowing researchers to understand the construction methods employed, a cistern, then steps that rise to the Acropolis. Here on a rocky outcrop, you have a 360’ view of the valley, heralded with  its immense beauty. The winds were sharp but not overbearing, the various rock formations allowing some respite. Remains of altars, cisterns and baths were evident. A carved  multi stepped bench, evidently used by the leaders to review and cast judgement on its citizens, was visibly covered in lichen,  weathered by the centuries. Trees, grass and thorny bushes littered the area, as well as rocky debris from prior building materials. It was noticeable how the Phrygians would incorporate the existing rock features into the harmony of their daily life; shaping or carving but never excavating and altering its form entirely. The existence of a main road was evident, as it winded downward from the acropolis, its narrow ruts and worn surface stones showing the effects of usage.

From Yazkilkaya I took various back roads, all littered with small villages and wonderful panoramas of rolling hills and distant snow capped mountains. I visited a small lake near Doger named Emre Golu, where I witnessed a desperate pregnant dog, trying feverishly to get into a trash can for some scraps of subsistence, whining and howling like hell upon her. It evoked the stark and forlorn nature of our frail human existence on this planet: our animalistic survival. Upon my return to Afyon for the night, I had another underwhelming meal, got a Turkish shave and retired to my 50 lira ($7) room at the “VIP” hotel. 

The following day I left early (at least for Turkish standards) at 830am, and headed further north (135km) to Aizanoi and the temple of Zeus. It took some 2.5 hours to reach the ramshackled village of Cavdarhisar. This village was built with the remains of the Roman city,  blocks of ancient stone facilitated  its construction. What is interesting is the full Hellenic temple of Zeus, one of the few intact structures of its kind in the ancient world. 

Founded sometime in the 3rd century BC and located in the domain of the Phrygians, Aizanoi was situated along the nexus of trade routes of the ancient world. It produced cereals, wine and sheep, was involved in the disputes between Pergamum and Bythia but was conquered by the Romans in 133BC. The structures are mainly from the 2nd and 3rd century AD and include: a stadium and theater, a marketplace or “Macellum”, several bridges and of course the temple of Zeus. A river bisects the town. 

The stadium and theater are unique in the Ancient world in that they are connected together, forming one vast entertainment complex. The theater, which holds roughly 13k people utilizes the stage wall to intersect into the north wall of the stadium. The stage of the theater was slightly flooded, the seats slightly jumbled due to earthquakes, and is still in fairly good condition. The stadium stretches north to south roughly 200m, with a beautiful vista of the mountains and accommodated nearly 20k spectators. Entry portals are still visible on the western edge, giving the visitor a fleeting glimpse of its past use. 

When we talk about something being “inscribed in stone”, the Macellum or marketplace is a remarkable example of this credo. As the Roman empire descended into inflation, due to the debasement of its coins and stamping too much currency, the government tried to implement price controls on products and services. Chiseled into granite blocks, was the “Price Edict” of Diocletian of 301AD. It listed the state approved prices for items on sale: Beef (8 denaris), fattened goose (200d),  sunflower oil (40d), house cleaner (25d), teacher (50d), soldiers yearly salary (1800d), palace guard (5500d), Wild Boar (6000d). The most expensive items? A male lion (125,000d) and violet silk (180,000d). 

The most important structure is the intact Temple of Zeus, constructed in the 2nd century. It is adorned with 15 Ionic columns on its long side and 8 on the short side. The podium itself measures 33 X 37 meters and was shrouded in morning fog, adding to its enigma. It sits on a slight hillside, giving it prominence in views from the nearby theater. In the later centuries (12th) the Taters used the structure as a palace, surrounding it by a curtain wall.  The Ionic Columns give the visitor a reinforced image of the ancient world and its essence. 

The Temple was dedicated to Zeus – the ruler of the Olympians, and was worshipped in the surface ground section while the underground chamber of the building was the place of Cybele cult. Descending into the Cella, you find a vaulted ceiling, dripping groundwater provided a musty, dark and damp backdrop. Inside, fragments of tombs and friezes were displayed,  faint streaks of light penetrating the opening from above, highlighting their features.

One tomb inscription was dedicated to a Gladiator who was a Retiarius: a lightly clad warrior who fought with a trident with one arm covered in armor, a dagger and simply dressed in a loincloth. It does not state whether he was killed in his occupation but does give someone a realistic glimpse into the fame and status these slave warriors possessed. They were feted and admired by their fans, similar to modern sports stars.  “Ave Caesar, Morituri Salutamus” (Hail Caesar, for those about to die we salute you!) was engraved on his tombstone. 

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Facing the beauty of Phaselis

Stretching out from the coast about 70 kms from Antalya is the beautiful location of Phaselis. The day was gorgeous, highs in the low sixties, plenty of sunshine. The Dolmus ride was herkie jerky, stopping at every little town along the route with huge package tourist hotels completely empty, the accompanying shops along the streets all boarded up. The views of the Bey mountains were spectacular, snow capped with blue backgrounds

Finally after 2 hours,  I was dropped at the entrance, paid my fee (45TL) and made the 2 km jaunt into the park.  The road was flanked by pine trees, craggy metamorphic rocks and rising slopes to the west, the coastal highway hummed in the background. It winded past a lagoon then made its way towards the sea. Phaselis is famous for its history and scenic beauty but not for its surviving ruins which are rather underwhelming in contrast to other archaeological sites. 

Settled by colonists from Rhodes (690BC), Phaselis has had many different rulers: Persians, Greeks and Romans. Alexander the Great quartered here during the winter in 333BC, the city opening it’s gates without a fight. After his death, Until 160BC, Phaselis was ruled by the Ptolemaic Egyptians, Syrian Seleucids, when it was absorbed into the Lycian union. Then pirates, under Zenecites, overtook the city using it as a staging base for raids until Rome re-established control in 78BC. Roman Emperor Hadrian visited the city in 131AD, the city reaching its zenith in the 2nd century AD, then declining under Byzantine rule, Arab and pirate raids, disease and economic malaise. The city was abandoned by the 13th century. It was home to a Christian Bishopric and apparently the lance of Achilles was exhibited in the Temple of Athena. 

The Phaselitans were traders of wood, lilium oil and roses, sailing the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Historians note that the Phaselsitans were rather “unsavory” and “shrewd” in their trading methods and practices hence making them not very admired. The women wore their hair in a style called a “Sisoe”, reminiscent of the god Isis from Egypt. Plagues of wasps and malaria struck the city, all were blamed on visiting foreign traders. It was said that the Phaselitans didn’t care much for politics, only wealth, so they treated invaders with indifference, as long as they allowed business to continue. 

The site has three harbors, all with beautiful beaches and scenery. The pine forest comes right up to the coast, providing marvelous shade and aesthetics. There was an Agora, Aqueduct, Theater (with a fantastic view)  and a necropolis, all of which rather underwhelming. However the views of the Bey mountains were superb and astounding, the glorious sunshine reinforcing their beauty. This undoubtedly would have been paradise 2000 years ago: fresh fish, water, fertile land and glorious views. I hiked up to the Acropolis, where a Basilica once laid. Using fishing rope to help me up the precarious slope, I was treated to broken rubble, nary a stone still standing, all overgrown with thorny bushes and manzanita (?) trees. But of course the views were dynamite!

I spent about 3 hours at the sight wandering and contemplating life. Then it was time to face the “dolmus beatdown”: 2 kms back to the main highway, 2 hours back on the bus, then an hour tram ride back to my quarters. Very exhausting for a 70km stretch of road…but worth it. 


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On the other Side

Piri Reis map of 1520: Antalya region

Bus rides never seem to get easy anymore. Even a beautiful highway straddling the mediterranean  seems to be arduous: kids screaming, jerks talking loudly on their speaker phones and stopping for lunch just 20 minutes after starting out. I was dropped off on the highway, about 6 km from my destination and left to fend for myself. Luckily a kind soul gave me a lift into town and I found a place nearby the ruins to set up camp and began my exploration. 

Side (See-day) is an Ancient town located in Pamphylia, some 65 km east of Antalya. It is situated on a peninsula that juts out into the sea for about 2 km.. It had played an important role in the region for well over 2000 years, stretching from the Phoenicians to the Ottomans. Its namesake means “pomegranate” in Greek, but there is some speculation that it may mean something else. Some say the enigmatic “sea peoples’ ‘ were their ancestors. The original inhabitants, the Sideteans, whom little is known, had their own language, coinage and art. However, after centuries of invasions, their culture has been left to the dustbin of time. 

Alexander the Great took the city in 333 BC without a fight, consecrating Side’sHellenistic roots. After Alexander’s death, Side fell under control to one of his generals, Ptolemy Soter. . Subsequent struggles between the Selcuicid and Ptolemy Diodaches bounced the city back and forth when finally in 190BC, a coalition of Pergumum, Rhodes and Rome took the city from the Selucids. In the Roman-Selucuid war, one memorable sea battle took place in July 190, when Hannibal Barca led a force of some 40 ships against the Rhodians, who escaped intact but was unable to affect the outcome of a Roman coalition victory over the Seleucids.  

The city was well known for its Cilician slave trade and piracy, growing rich off their profits. In fact Julius Caesar was taken hostage, ransomed, then returned to execute his Cilician captors. However for the most part,  Rome turned a blind eye to the Cilician slavers’ exploits for many years. That was until the pirates started interfering with Rome’s trade and commerce, when Pompey the Great brought Side under its rule in 67 BC. The city prospered, growing to over 60,000 people, then declined in the 4th century with Isaurian raids from the Tarsus mountains, Arabs in the 6th century and a series of earthquakes and calamities that left the city empty by the 10th century. It did possess an extensive ecclastical presence during its life, maintaining a Bishopric from about the 3rd to the 10th century. This is evident by several ruined churches, chapels and Basilica.

The city was empty all weekend, owing to the quarantine curfew imposed on the locals. The weather was spotty, rain showers but periods of brilliant sunshine. Heading out of my pansiyon, I headed towards the coast and immediately became startled at the breadth and size of the ruins, something I didn’t anticipate. The first clump of ruins was the Nymphaeum, where the city drew its main source of water and an ancient gate, stretching some 2 kms, and was roughly 20 meters thick. From here the road forked, with both routes flanked by what were colonnaded streets, heading into the heart of the city, the Amphitheater perched prominently in the distance. There were some remains of mosaics which lined the floors of shops.

Being close to twilight, daylight was coming to an end. I took the left fork, heading south east and followed a cobble stoned route towards the Agora. Trees, bushes and rubble all occupied the slightly higher ground above the road, the sterling white granite blocks of stone acting as a beacon for my path. The sounds of the sea crashed in the not to far distance, an occasional dog bark and of course the Muslim call to prayer, added to the sublime red hue of the fading sun over the sea. 

I sauntered over broken columns, haphazardly supported by Corinthian pedestals and lintels, all adding to the color of the fading day. Shattered clay pots, roof tiles and assorted debris was littered about. The two storied “hospital” sat silent near the path, its history and purpose virtually unknown (I think it was a slave holding pen), but was given this name because it resembled an ancient Selchuk building in Anatolia. Huge hewn stones were settled into the imperial pathway , irrigation canals lined their sides, otherwise Roman aggregate concrete was predominant in the construction of buildings and walls. . 

The city defensive walls were impressive, some 30 meters in height and ran for a good distance. Near the south gate, sand dunes and crabgrass had clumped up and  covered the outside portion of the portico. Roman arches still in place due to their “keystone”, held up vital building stones in position, providing resistance for over 1500 years. Nearby was a “Sarayi” an old monastery complex: its chiseled columns of flowers and fruits engraved in granite for centuries. A small chapel adorned the site, as well as  chambers and quarters. 

As I neared the end of the colonnaded route, the Amphitheater came into full view with the Agora directly next to it. The theater had seats for some 20,000 spectators, considered one of the largest in Turkey, played host to gladiatorial contests, games and plays. The Agora, sat fenced off, due to restoration work but a round fountain dedicated to the gods Fortuna and Tyche stood semi repaired at its center. From there, you enter the city proper passing near a monument dedicated to Vaspian. 

As I ventured further into the old town, the city was quiet, the effects of the “lockdown” evident on people’s morale, attitude and pocket book. Many of my friends in the states have not missed a paycheck since the “crisis”, making it hard for some to demonstrate empathy with the world. A planet which faces frustration by having their livelihood diminished by fewer tourists, less working hours and freedoms plus stringent government regulations is not a happy one.


I shuffled past the darkened streets, closed restaurants and shops, towards the Temple of Apollo. Situated on the edge of the town, the Temple of Apollo sits juxtaposed with the sunset, sea and a corner of rebuilt corinthian columns. Nearby were the remains of the Basilica, and few more temples, Demeter and Dionysus. Intermittent rain, kept most in doors. The sunset was spectacular (insert “awesome” here for those who are vocabulary challenged) aided the spectacle. 

Humble abode for the night….yes it rained.

Having enough rain and wind, I swung back towards the Limani, or harbor, I grinned at the boats being tossed like the SS Minnow from the stormy sea, and headed back to my humble tent, situated under orange and olive trees to await the inevitable thunderstorm. 

 Here is a link for further history and background:


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Cappadocia: Lost in Time

The bus ride from Antalya to Nevsehir was a nightmare. Two bus rides, one screaming baby behind me, one long legged Kurd who kept bumping the seat and a cold night spent in the bus station on the floor. This was because I missed the last (mini-bus) local Dolmus to get me the final few kms. Thankfully it was a quiet bus station and I had my camping gear. 

The morning was beautiful, I jumped on the first Dolmus and headed the final 20 km to Cappadocia to Goreme. I found an empty hostel, took a nap and rushed off for a quick overview of the sights. Balloon rides, check. ATV rentals, check. Chotsky shops with Cappadocia magnets, coffee mugs, ceramic mantle pieces and Aladdin hats, check. Camel Rides, check. 

So as you can imagine,  the town is ready for all those packaged tourists from Russia, the UK and Albania.  Beyond the superficiality, there is some true beauty and magic to the area. The scenery is breathtaking; sandstone “hoodoos” and red rock cliff faces that scan the horizon, dotted by  innumerable cave dwellings, testament to the Hittites and later Byzantine Monks. Gentle, meandering hiking paths, which are neither too steep or narrow, always affording you fantastic rock face views or 360’ panoramas of the valley and its nearby villages. The landscape is similar to southern Utah or parts of Nevada: dry, colorful and with hidden draws over every knoll. 

Goreme is just one of many villages that make up Cappadocia. Uchisar is famous for its formidable fortress redoubt, standing solitary and noticeable throughout my hikes. Cavusin, home to the Ayvanli church and Kayseri, the birthplace of St. Basil. Cavusin is a ramshackle little village, its church closed and boarded up.  The open air museum, co-opted by UNESCO, signals formalities, large crowds and higher entrance fees. I skipped this and headed off into the “bush”, aided by my offline GPS map and a backpack full of water, food and mountain money. The weather was perfect for hiking: mid fifties and plenty of sunshine. 

Starting about 10am the next day, I hiked up the “Zemi” Valley, the trailhead, (which started as a dirt road)  just a few minutes walk from my hostel. The trail passed the “El Nazar” church, which is conveniently closed just before Christmas to just after Easter, and winded its way northward under the cover of shriveled fruit orchards and dry creek. White sandstone cliffs faced the trail, soggy leaves and fallen tree limbs were scattered about. The occasional farm shack with ubiquitous barking dogs flanked the road to a point. Lost Russian tourists, driving unsafe and fast, would stop, get out of their car, yell something into their cellphones, snap a photo and speed off, only to backtrack minutes later as the road narrowed to a true path. 

This is where the fun began. The creek started to become muddy, trees thicker and the views startling. Spires of sandstone, tiny notches dug into the soft stone, evidence of some medieval monks home. The path sauntered up and down softly to the rhythm of the creek bed, the sun splashing down at intervals through the spires of stone. A gigantic fallen tree blocked the path, its branches like an “iron maiden” , gauging me as I dropped to all fours, scraping my backpack in the process. 

After about 2 hours, I came to a fork in the trail….one branch continuing on to Uchisar and the other towards higher, dryer ground, looping back to Goreme. I searched the high ground for a place to eat my lunch: nuts, bread, cheese, olives and water. Finding a spot to sit and rest was a challenge, dusty sandstone and animal dung was not appealing. Finally I chose a sunny spot, dry and clear, when a shepherd appeared over the crest with hundreds of sheep, a mule and 3 hungry dogs. He was from Afghanistan, of Uzbeck origin. Not sure how he got here in Goreme, but when he asked if I was American, I decided to pack up and skedaddle. 

Winding higher above the valley floor, the sun dried out the trail and afforded me fantastic views. Columns of sandstone, pecked with entry ways, fake facades from Byzantine days would fill my eyes.  People have been living here since the Hitties, but gained momentum in the 2nd century AD. Aesthetic monks had been living their lonely plight up until the 18th century, when the Greek minority was forced to flee after the Greco-Turkish war in the 1920’s. 

As I pushed upwards along the path, I spotted an interesting group of doorways. I dead reckoned towards them on a south facing slope. Most of the monks’ abodes are simple and plain with no ornamentation, due to the eroding sands of time. However, my eye spotted one humble hole in particular. Climbing up the chalky surface, I crept through a small hole and was treated to an unbelievable sight of 1000 year old Christian frescoes painted on the walls and ceilings. 

In ornate fashion, the whole liturgy was muralized above my head. The nativity and the birth of Jesus, his crucifixion and all the Saints that were canonized by the 12th century. St Michael defended the archway from dragons. Desecrated graves of unknown souls littered the entryway, the sun finding some nooks, its rays highlighting part of the church. I sat and contemplated the monks who painted, lived and prayed in this tiny chapel, gazing out at the vista from that craggy hole. 

The following day was bright and sunny, highs in the fifties, perfect for hiking. It was January 7th, the Orthodox Christmas (sorry…no visit from St. Nick) and what a glorious scene unfolded upon me.  The hike was about 8 kms through the Rose and Red valleys. Some of the highlights included Hacli Kilesi (church) which had a nice assortment of painted frescos, the Direkli Kilesi (Church of the Columns)  that reminded me of something out of “Indiana Jones and the last Crusade” plus an anonymous church with only a few crosses and crypts and a few loud Russians.  I forged ahead, making my own path at times, others using creeks or goat trails to get me towards the canyon opening. On the main paths, swarms of ATVS dusted me silly.

On my loop back to town as I wandered back through town, an eclectic doorway emerged on one of the “cave” pensions. It was ornamented with warped wood and wrought iron, giving it a fine rustic Turkish look. The owner, “Dervish” befriended me, offered me a cup of coffee and gave me a tour of his 3000 year old cave hotel, full of funky antiques. Turns out he lived in Holland for 20 years and has traveled all over the world, now back in his hometown, enjoying his retirement. His son is a San Francisco Giants fan. 

Sunshine was abundant, the balloons taking flight over head, hearing the passengers laughing and joking as they ascended skywards. As I strolled back to town, the weekend quarantine was underway, all stores closed at 5pm. Only foreigners could be out on the streets, making for a quiet walk back to my hostel. 

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After a good night’s rest, I said goodbye to Egirder and headed west towards Isparta and Sagalassos, some 70 km away. The road was fraught with police checkpoints, having been stopped 3 times in as many days. Making my way through the village of Aglasun, whose roads were atrocious and winding skyward to the site, at some 1700 meters altitude, I arrived. 

Having been recently excavated and restored, Sagolassos had a lot to see but was a little more “polished” than Antioch Pisidia. This is the result when UNESCO gets involved; they spend a bunch of money, hire archaeologists, who then undoubtedly recreate the ancient location  into their “own” image or interpretation. I have seen some terrible examples of this, namely at Knossos in Crete and Teotihuacan, Mexico. Thankfully this site was not completely remodeled and some of its true “essence” survived.  Owing to its altitude and seclusion, the local village below (7km) didn’t siphon off all of the stone blocks to build their homes.

Conquered by Alexander the Great in 333 BC, where a nearby mountain still bears his name, Sagalassos had a population of a few thousand inhabitants.  After Alexander’s death, a whole slew of rulers stepped in through the years from Thrace, Syria and Pergamon. 

Finally the Romans took over (25BC) under Hadrian, turning Sagalassos into a “first city” and began to build the structures that still  stand to this day. Earthquakes, plagues and Islamic incursions brought an end to the city proper in the 7th century with only defended fortified hamlets until the 13th century. 

The city has an upper and lower section, made up of an (1) Agora, (3) Nymphaum, Amphitheater, several churches and (Temple-8) Heroon.  There are also some shrines to Zeus, Apollo Klarios (9) and a  lower nymphaeum (9). 

The views and vistas of the Tarsus mountains were fantastic. I made my way to the Nymphaeum which was basically a fancy fountain. Graced with a colonnaded Corinthian facade of medusa heads and statues, this was one of the main sources of water for the city. In fact, it’s the only currently working fountain I have seen in the Roman world, thanks to a Belgium refurbishment in the 1990’s.  Copious amounts of water filled a rectangle  basin, adjacent to the upper Agora. Remnants of statues (all replicas) adorned the niches of the Nymphaum, flanked by 20 meter high doric columns.  A stone squared plaza outlined the market area. 

Circling back past the Herloon, which was rectangle and about 15 by 10 meters and  was  supposedly dedicated to an unknown hero, I made my way to the imposing theater. It was  situated on a hillside, facing south. Having been destroyed by earthquake  in the 6th century, this mammoth structure hosted some 9000 spectators who watched plays, music and political dissertations. 

The theater was in fairly good shape, considering its age. Like all theaters it afforded masterful views of the mountains and hills, scanning the horizon for hundreds of kilometers. Multi-ton building stones or reclining seats were jumbled about like pebbles on the beach. The stage area lay in tatters. However, it seemed 75%of the bench seating were in their millennium old stance, waiting for the next performance. As I sat relaxing in the sun, I listened for the bygone sounds of the crowd, hawkers selling snacks and the music of antiquity playing long forgotten tunes. I pondered and wondered: “what was the last show performed in this theater?”

Continuing on, I retraced my steps above the upper Agora, towards the Necropolis and stadium. The necropolis was chiseled into the side of the mountain, just outside the city gates. Faded Greek lettering lined the small tombs, their contents having been pilfered eons ago. The sun blanketed the grey hue stone, an ancient rock bench for the past bereaved afforded me some comfort in enjoying the sumptuous mountain views. 

Just below the necropolis were the remains of the stadium, once hallowed for its gladiatorial contests, chariot races and wrestling matches. Christian sacrifices also took place, replete with Martyr churches. It seems, when Christianity was finally adopted by the Empire, the Bishopric  purposefully erected churches on the location of their Martyrs demise. This would often include the stadiums where their fate was sealed by wild animals or the sword. Nothing remained of the stadium except for a faint circular outline, the fallen church walls barely standing. Stone quarries, still in use today, could be seen down in the canyon below. 

It was about 3 pm. I had started my tour around 11am, so I was starting to get a little fatigued, having walked for about 4 kms in the high altitude sun. I made my way to the lower Agora, which included the Roman baths, Apollo Klaros and city gates. The lower Agora had another Nymphaem, although not in working order. Market stalls, former restaurants and drinking establishments lined the stone plaza. The temple of Apollo Klaros was where sacrifices took place in honor of the son of Zeus. Inside ancient soothsayers  would foretell the future, for a price, to journeying pilgrims. 

Adjoining the Agora were the Roman baths, ubiquitous in roman cities worldwide. Red brick arches, ceramic heating pipes and large sunken baths are trademarks in any ancient roman town. Always constructed to impress, this roman bath had a mosaic floor, meters high arches and multiple rooms of hot and cold water, exercise and lounging areas. Gravel and a plastic tarp covered the mosaic in order to protect it from the elements. 

Directly south, along another stone lined road was the southern gate of the city. Alexander hill was directly beyond. This was the hill where the city made a last stand versus the invading Macedonians, only to be destroyed. The gates were surrounded by the crumbling Byzantine city walls, whose defense was impotent against the raiding Arabs in the 6th century. 

By now the Sun was quickly descending into late afternoon and twilight would soon follow. Needing to find accommodation for the night, I hustled back to my vehicle, took one last glorious glance at the view and drove onto the town of Burdur, some 40 kms away. 


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Antioch Pisidia

After picking up my rental car from some shady company, I headed north outside of Antalya. The highway was flanked by pine trees and beautiful vistas of the rugged Tarsus mountains. I was driving a  Citroen four-door sedan.  The roads we’re fairly well paved with plenty of police traffic cameras to keep speeders at bay.  The views were fantastic: white capped mountains with small little Turkish villages in between Granite Peaks and flowing rivers. I passed through the Koprulu canyon  park, passed over an old Roman Bridge and headed north through such famed villages as Yesilbag, Kesme and Degirmenozu. 

View of Antioch

After 5 hours of twisting road, flanked by deep ravines and reservoirs I made it to my destination…Egirder. Situated along a lake of the same name, the town was strung out along a spit of land which projects from the mainland into the water. I first became aware of the lake while flying above it on a previous trip to Turkey. I stayed at a nice little pension named “Fulya” which the owner, Irabahim, proved a hospitable host. The town of Egirder has been inhabited since the Hittites, and provided an excellent base for visiting some fascinating nearby ancient ruins. 

Antioch of Pisidia is famous for its location for one of St Paul’s sermons, taking place at a Jewish synagogue in 46BC.  It is located near the village of Yalvac.  It sits on a hill with a commanding  view  of the valley. In comparison to other sites  I have visited it lacks some of the complete structures and buildings that normally accompany Roman ruins. Pisidians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Byzantines all have had their say in the history of Antioch Pisidia. 

The site is quite sparse, dry and rocky. Most of its structures had been picked over years ago for its fine hewn stones in the construction of the town of Yalvac. The day was quiet and serene.  I was the only visitor at the ruins. 

Dedicated to Emperor Hadrian in the first century was the western gate. Stone carved lintels of anamorphs filled the walkway; horses adjoined with serpent tails, romans coats of arms and medusa heads aligned the entrance way.  The gigantic Hellenistic defensive walls funneled the visitor forward through the fallen gate.

From the gates, you meander up to the two main roads: the Decumanus Maximus and the Cardo Maximus. They bisect each other and help guide you through your visit. Lined with giant road stones, bearing the scars of cart traffic  from two thousand years ago. Along the stone pathways were the remains of stores, shops and restaurants, reinforcing the image of the past. My mind was  embedded with the thoughts of travelers, merchants and administrators plying their daily trade. 

One of the main sights along the Decumanus was the Amphitheater, apparently one of the locations of  St Thecla’s miracles where she was thrown to the lions, only to have a lioness protect and save her life. See prior my blog on the cave of St. Thecla for more insight. 

The famous (Basilica)  church, formerly a synagogue,  was reportedly the site of St Paul’s “Act of the  Apostles” sermon 13-13-42 , which “preached the death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus Christ, and he proclaimed that faith in Jesus guarantees a share in his life.” (Britannica.com)

The Basilica  was 70 by 27 meters, adorned with a mosaic floor and had three naves. Not much remains except for some of the altar stones, crucifix engravings, and a few large buttresses. The weather made for a spectacular vista with copious amounts of sunshine. The serene calmness and lack of yapping visitors enhanced the ethos of the location.  The church remained in use until the 6th century before being destroyed by earthquakes and the Islamic conquest. Following the Decumanus, you find yourself at Tiberius Square, near the entrance to the Temple of Augustus. Around Tiberius square were the remnants of more shops, restaurants and bars. 

The Temple of Augustus was built on the highest point in the city, carved directly in the bed rock by hand. The podium of the Temple is 26 by 15 meters and is reached by 12 steps to its “Cella”, which was decorated by friezes and symbols. I climbed down into the “Cella”, realizing that it was excavated directly out of a stone formation, creating a natural sink into the temple complex.

There was an altar, perhaps an ancient bench, that someone had recently burned candles. Was this the remains of a modern ritual?  The sun was at its apex, and the sunken temple sheltered me from the wind. I loitered around the temple for an hour. Surrounding the Temple of Augustus were the remains of a two storied colonnaded gallery which formed a semi circle, adorned with doric and Ionic columns.  Notches could be seen along the rock wall, used  for the wood beams that supported the Gallery.  Solid frozen puddles collected along its circular stone walkway, attested to the high mountain coldness.

Seeking some sunshine to warm my bones, I strode above the Temple to higher ground for a further glimpse of the ancient city. Looking west, the city sloped gently downwards, its khaki colored landscape softly covering the ancient rubble of stone and debris. Directly behind the Temple,  I noticed a steep ravine, falling precipitously down the eastern side of the city, no doubt used as an additional defensive parameter.  Vistas of  snow capped mountains and Turkish villages dotted the north and south. Off in the distance were the remains of the city’s aqueduct, which stretched some 10km, starting from a height of nearly 1500 meters.  Echoes of Yelvacs Mosques call to prayer,  reverberated enigmatically along the valley floor and its hills. 

That night I feasted on a sumptuous fish dinner, complete with salad, fresh bread and lentil soup. I spoke with a few travelers, one from Australia and another from Brazil, exchanging stories of travel and the unforeseen future and what it might entail.

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Issikkale: Chance Encounter

On my return trip to Adana, which retraced my steps back thru Silifike, I made a quick stop in a coastal town called Kizkelesi, famous for its “Maiden” castle, some 150 meters offshore. Built in 1104 by a Byzantine named Eustathious and it has served as a base for Romans and well as for the Crusaders. One folkloric tale is that King Koryokos had his fortune told. In that reading, the soothsayer said his daughter would be bitten by a poisonous snake. In an effort to bypass fate, he had his daughter sequestered upon the castle island. As fate would have it, a snake somehow made it into a fruit basket and struck the poor King’s daughter. Or so the tale goes. The same tale is retold for the famous lighthouse (of the same name: Kizkelesi) in the Bosphorus near Istanbul. 

The town however was a typical tourist spot. Weathered package tourist hotels, clustered dingy restaurants and cafes, all nestled near the main highway which made for a wonderful soundtrack. I spent about 20 minutes walking along the corniche, snapped a few photos and jumped back on the bus heading towards Adana. However, about five minutes outside of town, I noticed some ruins, nestled in the foothills, rising away from the Mediterranean. I sat in my seat, wondering if I should get off the bus and investigate. The weather was nice, finally a break from the ongoing rain. After procrastinating for another 20 km, I jumped off, crossed the highway, and headed back towards the site. 

Good decision. The site, visible from the highway, was a hodgepodge of Greek, Roman and Byzantine structures. It was on a slight ridge with a commanding view of the sea. Its name was hard to find in the history books, as it was only a hamlet, not a full blown city. Its name was Issikale, or at least the portion I visited.

I found a Greek temple in a grove of lemon trees. It was made of gigantic blocks of stone, weighing several tons each, having been jostled from countless earthquakes. One section of a column was precariously balanced on top of the remaining pieces. Fragments of Mosaics demonstrated its once former grandeur and importance. There was a standing aqueduct which crossed the farm road. 

However the interesting section was the old Byzantine Basilica which held a prominent position on the rocky plateau. Numerous Christian crosses were evident chiseled into the lintels and stone. A domed nave was still present, testament to its superior construction and architecture that withstood time and its calamities. There was an ancient cistern and large outcrops of buildings, their stones and blocks, jumbled about like someone had played a game of “boggle”.

Walking down a section of Roman road,  there were some crypts and tombs, their lids slightly ajar from time and vandals. The tombs had carvings of crosses and graphics of fruits of this mortal world. Names and stories inscribed in Greek of the interred souls still visible.  It seemed incredible that at one time, some 1000 years ago that Christianity held sway in Cilicia, then being swept aside by Muslim invaders. 

After spending several hours exploring and sunning, I strapped on my backpack, hiked to the highway and caught a dolmus back towards Adana. I thought how worth the visit was, while reaffirming my old maxim. “You never know when you will pass by here again, so see it now”.

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Anamur: Castle Keep

The bus ride west to Anamur was uneventful outside of the new construction of roads and tunnels along the coast. As always with bus rides, anywhere in the world, we stopped at the most expensive place to eat, which of course was the worst meal in the country. 

Anaumur has a few places of note: one being Mamure castle along the coast and another, the abandoned city of Anamurian. The city is pleasant, relaxed and has some good eateries. 

One of the most picturesque fortifications in Turkey is the coastal Mamure castle. It was originally built by the Armenians of Cilicia in the middle ages, then became a foothold of the Crusaders.  Of course it was closed for renovations, so I made my way along the coast, found a crack in the wall and ventured in. After the Crusaders had been expelled from Anamur, the castle became an Ottoman stronghold, then a caravansary before falling into disuse. The crenelated walls, its many bastions and towers gave me a strong impression of its history. I mused about its many encounters with besieging Muslim forces, who assailed the strong point in the 12th century. The castle covers some 250,000 square feet and is surrounded by a swampy moat. The sea, even with all its force and fury has not reclaimed it to its depths. The castle was easily reached by dolmus bus along the highway some 4 km from the city center. 

Another great site is the ancient city of Anamurian. Once a vassal state of the Romans, Anamurian lay virtually untouched for hundreds of years after being abandoned in the 7th century due to Arab pirates. It was active from Hellenistic times, was rescued by Antiochus of Commagene from marauders in the first century, became a vassal state under Vespasian and later fell on hard times when the Sassasians attacked in 260. It was also a Bishopric in the 5th century. It’s a sprawling site with bathhouses, an Odeon, amphitheater, boulatarion and a crowded necropolis. 

Beautiful mosaics still sit undisturbed in the bathhouses, providing a faint echo of what past life was like in Anamurian. The baths, filled with rain water and broken columns give solemn testament to its former grandeur. The Odeon, with its hallways intact, furnished me with ancient  visions of patrons hurrying to their seats, hawkers selling refreshments and the smells and cacophony of antiquity.  The roar of the nearby waves, clapping upon the shore, added to the surreal atmosphere. 

Just outside the city gates was a massive complex of graves…the necropolis. Mausoleums from all walks of life plied the hillside. Some looked like homes, which undoubtedly in later times they were. Domed, made of stone or brick and stucco, they provided a macabre backdrop to the city complex laying below. An Aqueduct, bringing the source of life, water to the inhabitants stood partially standing. A Shepard minding his goats, could be heard but not seen along the ridge line above the ruined city. A slight drizzle kept the interlopers away and added in the somber mood. 

Walking back in the rain a few kilometers, I made my way to the east-west highway and caught a dolmus back to the center of town. Upon arriving, the hotel owner offered me some tea, we sat and chatted. For the few days I was there, I noticed he was pensive and disturbed. Not by me but by something else. During our chat, he revealed that his wife was dying of Cancer and she had but a few months to live. My heart sank with pity and sadness. He was a nice man, kind and generous, one who had aided me in my journey. I gave him a hug, encouraged him the best I could and said a silent prayer for him and his wife. 

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Silifke: Crossroads of History

The journey from Urfa to Silifike took some 12 hours over beautiful coastal scenery along the Medeterrian sea. This route has been taken for millenia by the great conquerors of the world: Alexander the Great, the Crusaders and the Romans to name just a few. The road is flanked by the Tarsus mountains to the north and a long floodplain bordering the sea. 

My bus ticket was perhaps $15 dollars and worth the price of admission. The plan was to head as far west as I could quickly, then make my way back to Adana for my flight back to Istanbul. This way I could observe the lay of the land, make some adjustments to my itinerary based on towns and sites, then take my time.  

Formerly known as Seleucia, after the Diodache of Alexander the Great, Silifike sits at the crossroads of the coastal road and the mountain pass that leads to Anatolian plateau and the north for Konya.  It has a Roman bridge spanning the Goksu river, a temple dedicated to Jupuiter and a fortress that sits overlooking the town. It’s not a large town, some several hundred thousand inhabitants but it had some history surrounding it. Deciding to stay in the nearby port town of Tasucu, I hopped in a dolmus and took a short ride to the coast, passing by the caves of Saint Thecla and the ruins of the Aya Tekla church.  

The story of Saint Thecla is nothing short of a miracle. Born in Iconium (Konya) in the first century AD, she was an early adherent to St. Paul’s after hearing his sermons on chastity. She was saved twice from death, once from a thunderstorm when she was about to burn at the stake and another in an arena where she was to be eaten by wild lions, only to be protected by lioness from the males. Another story is where she was being accosted by someone who chased her to the caves, only to have the cave entrance seal up behind her, blocking her pursuer. There is some controversy as to the exact location of the caves, as there is another site in Syria (Maaloula) that claims to be a legitimate location. However, I believe this to be in error. 

Jumping off the dolmus, I headed away from the sea, and took the gravely road upwards towards the ruins. Passing by a school, some apartment buildings and a few olive groves, I managed the walk to the ruins in about 20 minutes with beautiful views of the mediterrian pushing me along. What remains of the third century church is scant: some fallen rubble, a corner of an Apse and a cistern. There was no one there, the site was empty. However the caves are what made the trip. 

As I made my way around the base of the fallen church, I saw some crude and antiquated steps making its way down into the cave. Upon entry, the silence was deafening. A feeling of awe and veneration came over me as I pondered this woman and the reported 72 years of living alone in this cave. The sounds from the highway, people and the earth stood silent for the hour I sat pondering this austere but powerful place. Votives and pictures of Saint Thecla adorned the corners, and the remains of Ionic columns stood testament to its age. A surge of energy and the whisper of the lord, said “this is it”, leaving no doubt that this was the location that the Saint had secluded herself. 

Tasucu was rainy and cold with intermittent sunshine. Only 15 KM from Silike, it was a nicer spot to relax, especially with its views of the sea. Pleasure boats and tourist crafts sat idle as the summer high season had passed, and it was winter. I ate fish sandwiches (Balik) and had copious amounts of “Haribo” gummy bears, which are made in Turkey. It was a good spot to make some journeys to a few ruins outside the city. 

One of these archaeological sites was Dioskaiseria and Olba, near the small village of Unzuncaburc, some 30 km north of Silifke. Taking a dolmus bus for about an hour, the driver left me by the side of the road and pointed to the east for me to walk an additional 3 km. Thankfully I had loaded my Google maps for offline use, so I had a good navigation tool to guide me. I popped my thumb upwards and  as luck would have it, a dump truck full of workers stopped and gave me a lift to town.  The town, nestled high in the mountains was quiet, nay for the stray dog or old man sitting out front of his shop drinking some chai tea. They greeted me with a smile and a “Merhaba” as I strode through town to the ruins. 

Dioskaisera was built during the Hellenistic period and was conquered by Vespasian in the first century. The main attractions were its amphitheater, which stood astride the main road into Unzuncaburc, the temple of Zeus and Tyche, the main gate with some of its columns still standing and the Tuekros tower, which has stood defiantly for over 2000 years. The tower, with no ground floor entrance, was used as a bastion of last defense in case of attack. My guide to the site, spoke “meow” as a group of hungry cats followed me through begging for a piece of cheese. 

Since the return Dolmus did not leave for some 4 hours, I stopped into a ramshackled tea house where bus drivers and locals were playing dominos or cards and drinking Chai. They looked at me with honored indifference as I sat next to the wood stove. One man quietly treated me to a glass of tea, respectfully giving me a nod of gratitude for making the sojourn to Uzuncaburc. 

After my refreshments I started out for the 5 km walk (roundtrip) to Olba, just outside of town. As luck would have it, I managed to get a partial ride to the ruins, which were haphazardly thrown between the road and farm houses. Although confused with the latter Dioskaiseria, it was of Greek origin and held a prominent position of somesorts until the Romans arrived. Not much has survived, except for some tilled up stones and a few fragments of a theater and an Aqueduct. I had to let it back to the main road, my luck having run out on catching a lift.

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