After visiting Pamukkale we returned to the village and then drove along the base of the escarpment to Karahayıt, a very Turkish thermal resort town with many new hotels springing up, to visit the kırmızı su bahçesi (red water garden) where warm water bubbles out of iron-rich red-stained rock. It is a peaceful garden setting, with beds full of roses and ornamental pomegranate trees. There were small pools here suitable for paddling, a number of souvenir shops, and mud baths where massage was also available. Not a bathing suit in sight here. Two camels were providing “taxi rides” and therefore photo opportunities for the children.
The object on the grass in front of the cart is an old door into which nails have been hammered. There were used for separating grains from the chaff.
We were the only foreigners there and it was fascinating to see a bit more local colour. A coachload of school children arrived while we were there and one or two of them tried out their English on us. We were offered the opportunity to partake of a mud bath or to have a massage. Perhaps next time.
From Pamukkale via the surprisingly large town of Denizli we drove up a long, innocent-seeming slope, into the mountains and up on to the plateau. We turned off at the signs to Tavas/Aphrodisias and crossed the high upland plateau. The soil was obviously very fertile here, with fields of olive, pomegranates and walnut trees stretching away on either side. Perhaps it was this obvious fertility that first attracted the Romans into settling here, otherwise it seems a pretty remote part of the world in which to establish a major site dedicated to the worship of the goddess Aphrodite.
At Geyre we turned off to the left, following the signs to Aphrodisias, but were sharply informed that we couldn’t park there although there was plenty of parking. We went back to the main road and parked in the car park on the opposite side of the road, paying 7TL for the privilege (which also included the cost of being shuttled by tractor back to the site entrance). There were half a dozen coaches already there but most of the visitors appeared to be Turkish. Foreign visitors, like ourselves, appeared to visit on an independent basis as we saw a Dutch and a Belgian-registered car in the car park. The tractor shuttle seemed to operate quite frequently and we didn’t have long to wait. In fact we were the only people in it.
We decided to start our visit in a vast hall filled with remnants of stone statuary on either side.The figures depicted, in various states of repair, were of mythical characters and real people. These are the 3 Graces.
Leda and the swan
The quality of the stonework was quite remarkable and some of them were still in very good condition. The stonework had originally been in the upper tiers of one of the largest buildings in the complex. What particularly impressed me was a sculpture, in blue marble, of a racing horse. Originally the horse had a rider, although all that is left of the rider now is part of its thigh.
The sculpture displays an extraordinary sense of speed and vitality. The rest of the museum unfortunately was closed at the time of our visit.
We walked through the grassed area where a number of stone sarcophagi and pithoi (large amphorae) were displayed and walked through to the main part of the site.
Our guide book, the Rough Guide, described the site thus: “Situated on a high plateau over 600m above sea level, ringed by mountains and watered by a tributary of the Büyük Menderes, Aphrodisias is among the most isolated and beautifully set of Turkey’s major archaeological sites. Acres of marble peek out from among the poplars and other vegetation that cloaks the remains of one of imperial Rome’s most cultured Asian cities. Late afternoon visits have the bonus of often dramatic cloud formations, spawned by the elevation, and the attendant dappled lighting.”
I found this site to be much more attractive than the tourist over-ridden Efes. There were masses of wildflowers everywhere – a huge variety of grasses, thistles and poppies and birdsong all around.
Two gardeners were fighting what must be a never-ending battle to clear some of the paths from the invading undergrowth.
The tetrapylon or ornamental gateway leading to the temple of Aphrodite
If you look closely through the lowest arch you can see snow on the mountain peak in the distance.
Somehow we managed to walk the loop path in the wrong direction so inadvertently may have missed some of the buildings. However, the stadium, which we had been specifically encouraged to see, was breathtaking – 270m in length, with an area at one end designated for gladiatorial games or battles against wild animals – and with a seating capacity of 30,000, was one of the most extraordinary sights I have ever seen. Amphitheatres I had previously seen paled into insignificance when compared to this (the first stadium I had ever seen).
This is all that is left of the actual temple of Aphrodite
The black and white mosaic tiled floor of another part of Hadrian’s baths
sculpture of a boy riding a dolphin
The small theatre made from the local Carian marble for which the area is famous
columns showing different types of ornamentation
There were the inevitable souvenir stands and an excellent exhibition of photographs, ancient and modern, of scenes of village life and the complex in earlier times. Many of the stones have unfortunately been pilfered over the years and used in buildings elsewhere.
This was a really beautiful site, not only because it is less frequented than some of the others but becaause of its wild and more natural setting.