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Going Greek in Selcuk

TURKEY | Monday, 16 July 2012 | Views [940]

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

It's been 5 days in Istanbul and what a wonderful city it is. Having done all the tourist things, I still felt there was plenty more to do and see. Alas it's time to move on because the other places I want to see are Canakkale and Selçuk. Neither are reachable by train. This is despite Turkey having something like 10,000 km of railway tracks, but it doesn't seem like any of this goes to the Marmara region.

Buses to Canakkale and Selçuk from Istanbul are 6 and 9 hours respectively. Neither of these are appealing, so I decide to fly to Izmir, then a 1 hour bus to  Selçuk, then head north to Canakkale. Getting into Izmir is easy as it has direct connections from Ataturk Airport. The only problem was the morning flight meant that in order to take the fixed time shared taxi to the airport, it was necessary to get up at 6.30am, skipping breakfast at the hotel.

There's no direct bus from Izmir Airport to Selcuk, but a bus will take people to a local bus stop that does. The stop is like some major bus terminal, more like a collection on benches next to some kiosks. Yet again, the kindness of Turkish people meant that I got off correctly at the local stop. It's an hour before the minivan going to Selcuk shows up. In that hour of waiting, I had fractured conversations with a fruit seller, with a passing resemblance to the fat version of Marlon Brando. Every passerby seemed to know him and greeted him respectfully. It turned out he just happen to be sitting next to a basket of fruit. When the Selçuk minivan arrived, he got the front seat, so I guess he must have been the local mafia don or something.

Selçuk, on the south-eastern edge of the Marmara region and the butt-end of the Asian side of Turkey sticking out into the Mederterrian. The town is mostly visited for it's proximity to the archaeological site of Ephesus, 4km out from the centre of town. The ancient Greco-Roman city containing the one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Temple of Artemis once stood in this city, until a bunch of Christian zealots tore it down.

Accommodation in  Selçuk is very limited for my budget of £20 and the lazy man's location opposite Selçuk bus station. So I was forced to book into a hostel, a private room with a shared bathroom. My hygiene standards are not that high, but I thought the bathroom was gross, even by guys standard. I spent nothing more than minimum amount of time needed for a shower. The toilet I only used for number ones, it was that gross. On the upside, the hostel does have complimentary bicycles, views of the sunset and a dining area overlooking the remains of the Temple of Artemis. The only thing I could see of the temple was the one restored column:

With a few hours remaining of the day, I took one of the complimentary bikes to do a cycling tour of Selçuk town. The Temple of Artemis, is only 800 metres away. As it turns out, the only thing left of it is the one restored column I could see from the hostel. It doesn't take long here, and the next stop is Isa Bey Mosque, built by the Selçuk after conquering the city from the Byzantines. The mosque is still functional and also the source of the calls to prayer I'll be hearing the next two nights.

The third stop is St John's Basilica, which sits atop a hill and it's hard work cycling up. When I get there, I chain the bike to some railings and next down to take a breather. Some guys comes over and sits on the bike. I'm curious and say nothing at this point. As he attempts to ride off not realising it was chained, I'm compelled to ask what he trying to do. He explains that it's his bike. Only when I show him the keys to the chain does he concede and then has the temerity to ask me to visit his shop 10 metres away.

The basilca is allegedly the burial site of St.John. Mostly in ruins, but obviously undergoing restorations. The archaeological team have done a pretty good job of restoring just the basic layout of the basilica, so it'll be interesting when the restoration is complete.

The entrance to the basilica:

Some surviving mosaics:

Other structures:

From the basilica, it's possible to see the Selcuk Fortress

It looks magnificant from this distance, but it was already 1730 by now and I didn't want to risk cycling all that way to find that it was most probably closed.

The real reason I've come to Selcuk is of course to see the ancient city of Ephesus the next day. I'm motivated to get up early to beat the crowds and also knowing it's going to be a hot day. This is the beautiful sight confronting me in the morning:

Ephesus is only 3km from the hostel, so after breakfast I just took one of the complimentary bikes again. For the first 2km, it's all paved roads right up until the entrance to the archaeological site. In a way it's lucky I took a bike because it seems minivans do not enter past the gate, with several stopping just outside to let tourists off. I pity the fools who had to walk.

Despite some disappointing experiences with audio guides in Turkey so far, I still got one anyway because I felt the site was too big otherwise. Sounding like a bored Majel Barret, sometimes the monologues were only marginally better than the signs. It did give an excellent description, history and insight of the ruins and building where no descriptions was given. Other times, the remnants of ruins were only discernible with the audio guide. So it was worthwhile getting the audio if you don't have a guidebook.

In it's heydays during the Byzantine era, Ephesus was second in importance after Constantinople due to it's harbour and consequent trade and wealth. The importance of the city declined as the river that flowed into the harbour gradually silted it up. With the loss of the harbour, people began to move away and the city and buildings fell into decline. 

Ephesus is without doubt the best preserved and restored ancient site so far. Starting from the south entrances is the harbour area, which obviously is no longer a harbour:

Further on from the harbour is the Theatre. During the Christian era, St.John apparently gave a speech here denouncing paganism and one Roman statesmen responded with a 3 hour speech repeating the line "Artemis is great" over and over.

Then the beautiful postcard perfect poster child of Ephesus, Library of Celsius. Unfortunately, by the time I got this far the hordes of tourists had begun to arrive and it was only 9.15.

From the Library of Celsius, there's the street that leads uphill:

Past the Temple of Hadrian:

To the Gates of Heracles at the top of the hill:

Where there's the Temple of Domitian:

And the Odeon:

After a little wander around the hill top area, it turns out there's a north entrance which some tourists enter and their coach will pick them up form the south entrances. I have to double back to the South entrance to get the bloody bike. 

Ephesus is also believed to be the city of the Seven Sleepers. During the Christian persecutions in the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius, seven young boys sought refuge in a cave. After falling asleep, they awoke centuries later thinking they'd slept for only a day. Wandering into the town, they were amazed to find that Christianity was now the state religion and Christians were no longer persecuted. The people of the town were in turned amazed by the sleepers trying to use old coins. After questioning and telling their story, they died praising God.

The entrance to the cave is about a 3km away, not difficult to find as it's well sign-posted. The entrance and some graves(?):

So after all the sight-seeing. I really didn't want to be out in the 38c any more and just headed back to the hostel for a Siesta. Woke up at 5pm and feeling rather hungry. Finding a restaurant in Selcuk isn't too hard as they're all located opposite the bus station. It must be low season as there's hardly anyone about. With plenty of options, I picked a restaurant with could at least claim some customers.

Something must have gotten lost in translation with the order. I asked for an omelette and got this. The manager insisted it was an omelette. Whatever it is, it defies description, kind of like a stew with eggs.

Tags: ephesus, greece, selcuk, unesco


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