Ruins of Perga and Aspendos Archeological Site

We drove from Cappadocia on a well-maintained highway that takes you up and over the jagged-peaked Taurus Mountains. (**side-note–they drive on the right side.) When we crossed the summit a whole different world appeared. We went from captivating dessert to a lush Mediterranean landscape ripe with citrus trees heavy with fruit.

Antalya, on the SW coast, is the perfect place to stay to visit Perga and Aspendos. Have I told you that I could easily live here during the winter months?

Perga was an ancient Greek city founded in 1209 BC. although bronze-aged people lived here earlier. It was a big city covering 9.3 miles although it’s not all uncovered yet and extensive repairs have the theater closed this year. Alexander the Great used Perga as an important base to spread invasion inland around 334 BC.. He made Greek the language and written word of the land. The Hellenistic gates were built during the reign of Emperor Hadrianus (117-138AD). Currently, archeologists are repairing this area but the surrounding (later) Roman expansion with niches for marble statues can be explored.

Perga really sparkled with the Romans occupation (1-2AD) when the town grew past the Greek Gates with the additions of a Theater, stadium, a marble floored Agora (market), and a pretty amazing Roman bath. After St. Paul and St. Barnabas set up a mission here, there were 2 basilicas built that I believe are in ruins.

STADIUM–held 12,000 spectators to all kinds of games and races.

AGORA–the marble tiled floor is covered for protection but it’s still there! Imagine this space with vendors under a covered roof and a little temple in the middle?

Main Street—imagine cascading water that flowed down fountains in the middle of the street. The marble street has etched grooves from many chariots that traveled on it. Did you know that the ancient width of a chariot’s wheels is the width of track for a railroad? True!

The Roman Bath had 4 marble mosaic floored rooms: Changing room, cold bath, warm bath and hot bath. You can see in spots where furnaces and waterpipes were under the floor. This place had exquisite marble statues all over the place! When you return to Antalya, go to the archeology museum to see them.

Benefactor fountains–there were beautiful fountains all over, fed from the nearby aqueduct pictured below, bottom left. The fountain was so large, I couldn’t get it all in one picture and it isn’t all repaired yet. The statues installed here are also in the museum.

Nearby is Aspendos , another ancient city in ruins but the theater is the most intact in the world. For this we can thank the Turks who rebuilt it and used it as a caravan stop. This is also another check-mark for Atlas Obscura enthusiasts.

Originally, this was built during the time of Marcus Aurelius ( 160-180 AD) and held up to 8,500 seated and standing spectators. The width is 315′ across. There is a beautiful 2-story backdrop and two towers that flank the stage. Today, this theater is still being used for opera, ballet and music.

Nearby is a little street side restaurant serving Gozleme—flatbread with melted cheese and spinach.

Fairy Land

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is enchanting with narrow canyons covered in cone-shaped chimneys formed from volcanic ash (tufa) that fell 14 million years ago. Dwellings date to 4,000 BC, but The Hittites dug out the soft stone in 2,000 BC and named this place “Cappadocia” which means “Land of beautiful horses.” The name and love for horses stuck and the two volcanoes seem to be extinct.

Some of these homes were multi-roomed with central firepits and crop storage rooms that remained cool year-round. Many had pigeon nests. If they needed more rooms, out came the tools and an addition was dug out.

Somebody got the great idea of moving certain businesses underground, such as wine making where temperature is important. That action developed into another question, “Maybe we should build underground cities for times of siege or attack?” Especially with invasions by the Greeks, Romans, and even the Turks. Animals remained on the upper floors. Narrow and short tunnels were created allowing only one person to enter at a time. This made it easier to whack invaders. Huge boulders were rolled and locked in place from the inside on each level.

I visited Ozkonak and met the farmer (Latif Acar) who discovered this 8th century AD city in 1972. The underground could shelter 30,000 people for 3 months. Only 4 of the 10 floors are currently open. Quite amazing that people could live with water from the well and fresh air through ventilation shafts.

During the middle ages, St. Basil and other Christians settled above ground in the hope for a little peace and quiet. These people lived in communal towns where each home had a church. The Goreme Open Air Museum is really interesting. There are many pigeon nests because they sold the fertilizer before commercial products. Although with current prices, farmers may go back to this simple plant nutrient for the surrounding vineyards. The frescoes in the churches range from simplistic ( and somewhat puzzling) to quite detailed and beautiful. ( 10th century AD to 12th) . Check out the naked saint with a cactus hiding the genitals. I’m not sure what the cockroach or louse figure had to do with religion, bottom left. Send me a note if you have the answer.

A hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is worth every penny spent. Quite magical to see so many balloons lifting up in the dark while watching the sun rise over the unique landscape.

Istanbul

Istanbul is a vibrant, crowded city of 15.46 million people with a history stretching back to the Hittites ( 13 century BC). Peel back the layers of many conquerors to discover an intriguing weave of cultures that tickle the senses.

There are restaurants, such as Deraliye Ottoman Cuisine where you can feast on authentic recipes from the Ottoman Sultans, or try any place serving Greek inspired Doner ( Gyro) and Kabobs. The best Baklava is a Syrian owned place called Karakoy Gulluoglu. If you want Turkish delight, bypass the cheaper fructose products in the Spice Market and sample the real-deal—varieties made with honey, nuts, fruit ,chocolate and even caramel.

After you’ve satisfied your tummy, listen to the music floating through the night air—from Arabic inspired folk or rap to the haunting call to prayer. Why does light seem more golden in Istanbul? Ottoman Empire tiles further delight your sight with intricate colors and patterns.

Vendors in markets will invite you to sit and enjoy a cup of tea or Turkish coffee and all negotiations begin with shared conversations about delightful things. This is a time-honored courtesy, so keep your heart open to the experience.

HAGIA SOFIA

Roman emperor Justinian built this former Orthodox Christian church in 532-537 AD. The very same guy who accomplished this feat of architecture also burnt the worlds most extensive library in Alexandria, Egypt. Who in the world burns books? Those who don’t want education about things that don’t jive with their religious viewpoint. This should be a warning to us in the States right now with the extreme right fractions taking control of our government and education. Banning books is as bad as burning them.

This church had a bloody history. Do you remember reading about the Chism between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic church? Crusaders decided to fight under the banner of the Roman Pope to sack Constantinople. In other words, killing and forcing Greek Orthodox Christians to eliminate the division. That senseless violence escalated in 1453 with the rise of (Muslim ) Mehmet the Conqueror. He turned Sophia into a mosque. Now mosque’s around the world follow this signature architecture with a huge dome and open space. Although statues and anything with a face have been removed, a few mosaics have been saved, such as the one above right depicting Justinian handing Mary ( and Jesus) this church. Look for the one Seraphim angel whose face has been fully uncovered.

Hagia Sophia is once again an active Muslim Temple. Head scarves are required for all women and shoes are removed before entering. Bring a bag to put your shoes in and carry them. Otherwise, you risk not being able to find them again. Before you enter, stop to look at the beautiful marble panels in the hallway. These were taken from the Roman temple of Artemis in Ephesus and reused here.

Topkapi Palace

entry to the palace grounds

Mehmet the Conqueror started the cosmic rise of the Ottoman Empire with a ferocious 55 day siege of Constantinople ( AKA: Istanbul). Afterwards, everyone wanted to keep the Sultan happy. This palace was built for him and 5,000 workers kept it humming. There are many buildings with exhibits in some –such as the holy relics of Muhammad (no photos and head scarves for women to enter). There are displays of the sultans armor and weapons that’s interesting and sometimes beautiful. But the biggest deal is the Spoon Sellers Diamond. The story spins that the spoon seller found this diamond in the dump. It’s 42 carat diamond surrounded by 84 smaller carats.

Then there’s the haram. It’s an additional ticket to enter this fascinating place where the girls were kept and trained. The sultans were allowed 4 wives and as many concubines as they wanted. Many ladies were the most beautiful slaves taken from other lands. Also living in the harem were unmarried daughters and young sons. Next door to the harem is the (castrated) black Eunuch’s living quarters. These guys were taken by Arab horsemen raiding in Africa. Although they were slaves, some of them became quite powerful because they had the ear of the sultan.

Bosphorus Cruise

On a warm day, it’s quite the treat to tour the Bosphorus on a boat. One of the later sultans wanted a palace that was more European, so he built it at the water’s edge. There’s two medieval fortresses and beautiful mosques. Homes you view sell for millions and millions of dollars.

Roman Hippodrome

Located in Sultanahmet square close to both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

The word Hippodrome means “Horse” and “Way” which describes what this place was—a place for gambling on Roman chariot races (203-330 BC-2 AD). But it was also used for gladiator fights, executions, and ceremonies. 40,000 people could attend games for free, so it once was immense. Remains of the serpent column from Delphi and the obelisk from Egypt are here and were used to show how vast the Byzantine empire was at the time. The Ottomans also used the hippodrome as a square, but created damage when the Blue Mosque and the Pasa Palace ( now the Turkish and Islamic Art museum) were built.

**** The Blue Mosque is under a several year construction repair project and you can’t see a thing. I visited during the highest holy days of Ramadan, so the Grand Bazaar was closed. Add them into your itinerary if they are open when you visit. Blue mosque at night pictured below.