Ephesus, Pamukkale and Bergama are all mid-way along the west coast of Turkey. They could all be undertaken as day-trips from Izmir (Pamukkale would be a long day.) You can fly into Izmir and pick-up a car and then tour the area choosing to overnight in a few places. Kusadasi, further south on the coast, could also be a good base if you prefer more of a resort town.
Ephesus (or Efes as the Turkish call it, and the local Turkish beer is also called Efes) is the best preserved ancient ruins in Turkey and they were impressive. During Roman times this was the commercial center of the ancient world for over 500 Anatolian towns. It is located in a fertile valley and originally was near a river (Mendares River) and the Aegean Coast, having a busy harbor. Due to the build-up of sediment, it is now some distance inland (6-8 kilometers depending on what you read) so you have to use your imagination a bit.
Ephesus was home to as many as 250,000 people during the period 400 B.C. to 400 A.D. It was originally settled by the Greeks, then later ruled by the Persians and then an important part of the Roman empire in later times.
The entire city was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, and the temple dedicated to her is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It also has some importance to the Christian religion and is the site of the Church of St. Mary. This was the site of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of which one of the outcomes was Mary was declared as Theotokos (Mother of God). This is one of the Seven Churches of Christianity mentioned in the Book of Revelations. (All seven are in Turkey.)
The highlight is the Celsus Library, pictured above. At its peak it housed about 12,000 scrolls and was the third most influential library (after Alexander and Pergamon (below)). The façade and the statues at the front are remarkably still intact.
There is an additional entry fee to enter an area where some of the old houses have been excavated. You can see the grandeur in which these people lived. The floors feature beautiful mosaics, the walls are painted in frescos, there are marble columns. The houses were terraced up the side of a hill, so were multi-story dwellings. If you have the time, it is worth the look.
Ephesus is near the town of Selcuk, which is also the site of the Virgin Mary’s House, believed to be where Mary spent her final days.
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About 12 km from Selcuk is the village of Sirince, also known as the wine village. (There are good signs from Selcuk to the village.) It is a traditional village with lots of eateries. The village is known for its food products, jams and fruit wines, as well as traditional wines. There is a shop along the main street where you can try the local wines and buy a bottle. It is a good stop for lunch after Ephesus.
Getting there: Ephesus is about an hour drive from Izmir and about 20 km from Kusadasi (the nearest large town).
Another UNESCO World Heritage site (Turkey seems to have a lot of these!). This is the picture you see of the white travertines on the side of the large hill. Live, in person from a distance it looks like snow. The Turkish refer to Pamukkale as “cotton candy” or “white heaven”.
The 20 TL admission fee also includes entry to Hierapolis, a large sight with ancient ruins. Hierapolis was started in 62 A.D. and took 144 years to build. It has an amazingly well preserved theatre, which is one of the highlights. It also has several significant religious sites.
There was no map provided and the Hierapolis site is extensive, so you may want to try and get a map of the site from your hotel before you enter to save yourself wandering around aimlessly.
Pamukkale is significant for its healing waters and is the site of the Ancient Pool, which is also known as Cleopatra’s Bath. Myth has it this is the water responsible for Cleopatra’s youthful beauty. When she sent her servants out to find her a way to maintain her beauty, they came back with waters from this spring. For centuries it has been used to cure various ailments including heart disease, digestive issues (drinking it), arteriosclerosis, blood pressure, rheumatism, and dermalogical/eye disease. It is at 36° C or about 98°F.
There are additional charges to enter the museum (5TL) and Ancient Pool (32TL) .
Entering the site you actually take you shoes off and walk up the travertines! It is definitely a unique experience. You can feel on your feet how rough or smooth the surface is in places and experience the change in water temperatures. In some places the water is quite warm and in others, quite cool.
Best time to go if you are staying in Pamukkale is early morning or late afternoon as the tour busloads are gone. You need to allow about 3.5-4.5 hours for your visit, especially if you want to go through the museum and/or the Ancient Pool.
If pressed for time, Ephesus is recommended over Pamukkale.
Pamukkale is inland a ways and about a 3.5 hour drive from Izmir or Kusadasi. The road is a bit slow as it goes through all the towns along the way.
Where to stay: there are a couple of large resorts near the town, they are further out of town and cater for the tour buses. There are a couple of smaller family run hotels in town, making it easy walking distance to dinner and Pamukkale.
We stayed at the Venus Hotel, a family run place off the main road. It was spotlessly clean, comfortable, quiet and the people were very friendly and helpful. They have prepared a guide to the area, it is in each room, and gives you a guide to visiting Pamukkale and Hierapolis as well as other things to do in the area. (There are some other ruins and some local villages depending on your interests.)
Bergama (Pergamon and Asklepion)
Bergama is a town with a population of about 150,000 about 1.5 hours north of Izmir. It is the site of three significant ruins: Pergamon, Asklepion, and the Red Basilica.
This was actually an overnight stop on the way back from Gallipoli. After catching the ferry, stopping at Troy and eating lunch, it was great to arrive here and have a bit of a walk around the town. There are a lot of antique shops and carpet shops (Carpets are something of a Bergama specialty.)
The ruins of Pergamon are located high on a hill overlooking the present day town of Bergama. You have an option to take a cable car ride to the entry point (you can also drive). It was rather fun to ride the cable car and get the views of the town and countryside.
Pergamon was built around the 7th-6th centuries BC. There are several notable structures including the Acropolis (which you can see from the town below), the Alter of Zeus, Temple of Dionysus, the theatre, gymnasium, Royal Palaces, and aqueducts and fountains.
The library at Pergamon rivaled the Great Library in Alexandria (Egypt). In fact this rivalry led to Egypt banning the exportation of papyrus (used for scrolls). This led to the development of parchment in Pergamon and it became a center of parchment production. It is also credited with leading to the development of books.
At its peak the library contained over 200,000 books about literature, art and science.
This was the largest medical center of the ancient world and was used until the 5th century AD. It was constructed in the name of Asclepios, the god of healing and medicine.
Medical treatments included:
- Small surgical procedures
- Diet related treatments
- Hot, cold bathing
- Physical therapy
- Sun treatments
- Psychological treatments
- And dream interpretation
Galen, born in Pergamom in 130 AD studied medicine at Asklepion. He later became a prominent physician and is considered the founder of pharmacology.
It is a bit different from the normal ruins and if you have any medical background or interest in health it is worth a visit. The baths and some of the treatment rooms as well as the road that led into the complex are all intact. It is well signed.
Constructed by Hadrian in 117-138 AD, the Red Basilica was originally known as the Temple of Serapis, and dedicated to the ancient Egyptian god Serapis.
In the 5th century it was converted to a Basilica dedicated to St. John and became one of the seven churches of Christianity mentioned in the Book of Revelations.
The Rotunda on the site has been used as a mosque since the Ottoman Period.
The name is quite apt as the rock is quite red in tone.
There are signs to the basilica, but it is at the end of town toward the entry to Pergamon or the Acropolis as the signs are labeled.
Bergama is a good day trip, but if pressed for time, go to Ephesus over Bergama. For accommodation in town, the Red Basilica Café and Hotel, right across from you guessed it, the Red Basilica is recommended.
The accommodation is in an old house, similar to the traditional houses that are marked on the town map. It is a very quiet area, there are people living near here. In the evening someone went by with their horse and cart and the sounds of the kids playing in the lane (no car traffic) was refreshing. It is clean, air conditioned and the bed and shower were both fantastic.
The proprietor is very friendly, I was greeted by name the first time I walked into the café! You can’t get any more welcome than that. They speak English. Breakfast was a traditional Turkish feast, including a fresh simit. The coffee here was very good as well.
Other Day Trips include Kusadasi and Cesme.
Kusadasi is a large town on the waterfront. It is one of Turkey’s premier Resort towns. A lot of cruise ships stop in this port and you can catch the ferry to Greece from here.
It has all the facilities you would expect in a large resort town and some up-market shops many selling furs, leather, and carpets. You could also base yourself here to see Ephesus.
Cesme is a smaller seaside town, about 1 hour outside of Izmir. It is dominated by a large fortress near the water. On the way to Cesme you will pass Balcova, an area known for its hot springs and spas.