The next stop on my Turkey tour took me to the city of Kusadasi where we took day trips out to the Ancient excavated city of Ephesus and the hot springs in Pamukkale. Both places are some of Turkey’s biggest attractions and both well worth the visit.
Staying in Kusadasi
We had just finished up Cappadocia and flew from Kayseri Airport to Izmir Airport. From Izmir, we organized shuttle transfers to Kusadasi for only 7 pounds per person thanks to Shuttle Direct (this service is seriously awesome). Izmir Airport is a large hub that services the Ephesus and Pamukkale tour sites and there are places to stay all around this area.
It was here that we saw first hand how nice the Turkish people are. We couldn’t find our shuttle anywhere and proceeded to ask other drivers waiting outside with signs that clearly did not have our names. One of the drivers started talking to the other drivers, who ended up talking to the other drivers. Soon, we had an army of 5 drivers talking to each other, calling the number I had in the confirmation email, trying to sort us out. After calling the number 10 times, they finally said to us with a concerned look that they could not get a hold of them. We found our driver eventually but we were both were how if we asked a driver to help us out in NYC, they’d likely tell us to politely F off.
Accommodation options are numerous throughout this area. I did a bit of reading and decided Kusadasi (about 1 hr south of Izmir) was the spot to stay. We were not disappointed. We stayed at a 5* hotel (at a 3*price), Charisma Deluxe that had some stunning views of the Aegean. Every room in this place had balconies facing the ocean! While it was not busy in April, it’s obvious this place would be packed with tourists coming in from cruises to see Ephesus.
Ephesus Day Tour
Numerous tour companies do this day tour and they all seem to follow the same itinerary. We were promptly picked up at 8:30am in a comfortable van with ten others, and briefed on the days activities before a 20 minute drive to Selcuk, the modern day city closest to the ancient city of Ephesus.
House of Virgin Mary
First stop on the tour is the house of Virgin Mary. Had no idea this place existed and in Turkey of all places, This is the final resting place of Jesus’ mother Mary before she died. The story goes that a 19th century nun saw this house in her dreams that it was located somewhere on a mountain, near the town of Selcuk, Turkey. Near the turn of the 19th century, it was discovered by a French priest, Abbe Gouyet, and later excavated and turned into a holy site that sees thousands of pilgrimages every year. Who would have thought? An iconic Christian symbol that has been visited by popes, cardinals, and the like, located in Turkey, a modern day Islamic country.
The house itself is small and unassuming. I assume it is more meaningful for Christians but we were in and out of the house within 30 seconds. We did not have to wait at all but our guide said that in summer months, the wait can be over 1 hour!
Entering Ancient Ephesus
Finally, on to the main event, the ancient city of Ephesus! Located right next to the House of Virgin Mary, this place is the stuff of legend. Turkey, especially its Aegean coast was once Greek, then Roman, then Byzantine Christian, and finally Islamic from the Ottoman Turks. Ancient Greek, and Roman ruins are scattered all over the country and they are especially prevalent along the Aegean coast. Remember the movie Troy? I’d always thought Troy was somewhere near Greece but nope, Troy is actually in Turkey (which geographically is very close to Greece but I just never made the connection).
As soon as you walk in here, it’s like you’ve been transported back in time. Ephesus once flourished as the second largest city in the Roman empire. Starting from the 3rd century AD, the city declined from Earthquakes, and attacks from outsiders. It was forgotten by time until 1860 when it was discovered by British archaeologists who spent the next century excavating it. Only about 20% is currently excavated and they are STILL actively excavating this city which is exciting to think that coming back here in 5-10 years may yield a completely different Ephesus.
Library of Celsus
One of the highlights of the tour, the library of Celsus was created during Roman rule and held some 12,000 ancient scrolls. It was at the time, second only to the great Library of Alexandria before fires and earthquakes destroyed most of the library and its contents. Nevertheless, this is one of the more impressive ancient buildings I’ve ever seen.
My favorite part of the whole tour, the Amphitheater is the grandest and largest structure excavated from the ancient city of Ephesus. Miraculously, this place still looks, and IS, intact. How the archaeologists dug this giant structure up is beyond me but I’m glad they did so I could see it. Used two thousand years ago as well . . . a theater, it is still being used today as a concert venue! Big names like Sting, Elton John, and DIana Ross have performed here and all the locals tell me you’ve never seen Ephesus until you’ve seen it at night. Some day!
Temple of Artemis
After a quick lunch of serviceable food, our last stop for the day was the Temple of Artemis. It’s one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient world and was once a huge Greek temple before attacks, fires, and Earthquakes completely destroyed it. Nowadays, it is just ruins with a few stones bearing no resemblance to its former self. Archaeologists, using remnants of the temple, erected one column to depict how high the temple would have been.
Pamukkale/Hierapolis Day Tour
Day two in Kusadasi consists of a day trip to the travertines of Pamukkale. We are again promptly picked up at our hotel at 8:30 and drive three hours to the ancient city of Hierapolis for more ruins, history, and an one of a kind hot spring experience. The ride is enjoyable as our van is once again spacious and air conditioned.
We have lunch at Pamukkale (town nearest to the ancient city of Hierapolis and the Travertine pools), before making our way to the main event. This tour is more hands off from the guide as there is only so much they can say about a hot spring. Time is mostly spent at our leisure as we were given a few hours just to do what we wanted.
Another ancient Greco-Roman city that once flourished, the ruins of this city remain in decent shape. I found, as far as ancient ruins go, that Ephesus is a much better visit. The people on our tours that also visited Troy and Gallipoli all agreed that Ephesus was the most spectacular. Nevertheless, there are plenty of ruins including a necropolis, temple, and a theatre. The main attraction however, in ancient times and in modern times, are its pools. Our guide gave us a little background about the ruins, and then we were given three hours of free time to explore the travertine and Cleopatra’s pool.
Back in Roman times, this whole region was home to large hot springs and its waters were used as health centers for people to bath in. Cleopatra’s pool, was one of these pools and the version we see today was shaped by earthquakes and you can actually see columns and stones IN the water making for likely one of the most unique and historic pools you’ll ever swim in. The water is a warm 30 degrees and is open year round for people to swim in. If time permits, make sure to take a dip! Cost of entry is 30L and no towels are provided.
I saw pictures of this place over and over again leading up to this day and I must say that it’s every bit as amazing as I thought. The whole region is made of travertine, a form of limestone deposited by hot spring water. There are about 20 different pools with warm water. The pools are a beautiful baby blue color that mixed in with the white background make you wish you could have one of these in your backyard. Sadly, the area was just filled with tourists. I’d recommend staying in Pamukkale a night or two just to come here in the mornings before all the big tour groups (like mine) reach the site for the afternoon.
Upon conclusion of the tour around 4:30, our tour group drove back to Kusadasi, but without us. We were on to bigger and better things!