We headed off through the hills and plains of Asian Turkey on our three hour excursion through the Denizle province of Southwestern Turkey. Pamukkale means cotton castle in Turkish. High on the cliffs above the plains are a series of travertine calcite basins formed over thousands of years by hot springs tumbling gently down the hillside. The entire side of the hill is white hardened calcite, which gives a beautiful azure tint to the warm waters that flow from basin to basin to the bottom. Unbeknownst to me, Pamukkale is a world heritage site due not only to the natural formation of the calcite baths, but also because of the location of the ancient Roman city of Hieropolis that was built above the springs. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/485
Our ride took us through small and large towns in the province. I love being a voyeur from the windows of a vehicle someone else is driving. Sardar commented with interesting facts, some based in reality and some in fantasy and folklore as we made our way to our destination. We passed through the large city of Aydin which is known for the fertile soil of this alluvial valley created by the once great Meander River, and the excellent agricultural products such as figs, apricots, peaches, almonds, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, cotton, wheat, etc. Our guide told us that the city claims 30 residents over the age of 100 yrs owing to the excellent fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy lifestyles. I don't have a fact checker, but it seemed reasonable to me given the excellent organic (for the most part) produce I have eaten here in Turkey. Unfortunately, western industrial influence is creeping in here as well and the introduction of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and plastic packaging will most certainly change that over time. Turkey has had the remarkable ability to remain rather insular for years, but the yearning for economic status and recognition in the European world will most certainly destroy a way of life that has maintained it's stronghold over the centuries. The current government is not a strong proponent of education, recently lowering the mandatory school attendance to four years! It is likely that an uneducated populace will be easier to control, particularly in the eastern region of Anatolia so it will be interesting to see what happens to the Turkish people in the next 50 years.
We turned off the main road and curved around and through some fairly rustic villages, climbing up and into the outskirts of the tourist area of Pamukkale. Of course all tour guides typically have arrangements made with business people en route to bring money to the doors. In true fashion we made a stop at an agate shop, where two floors of beautiful and expensive products of agate polishing were displayed for sale. We also had a demonstration of an artisan carving an agate egg, which one of us on the tour would win. (not me).
I spent too much money in this shop buying various gifts for family and friends, as I was supposed to do!
On to Hieropolis. I did not even realize that we would be walking through the ruins of this 2nd century city that lies just above the travertine pools. However... it became for me the highlight of the entire trip, and the place with which I truly fell in love.
Necropolis. Antiochus had sent approximately 2,000 Jews to the city, and later Palestinian Jews joined the population. It is estimated that there were approximately 50,000 Jews living in Hieropolus by 62 BCE. Here is the lid of one of the sarcophogi. You can see the menora carved at the peak, and the lion (tribe of Judah) beneath. This would have been a wealthy and prominent Jew given the size and ornate nature of the stone coffin. Some of the burial plots were round, and contained a large number of citizens.... the less affluent. Of course the tombs have unfortunately been pillaged over the years, as well as the ravages of nature taking their toll with two massive earthquakes shaking the city to the ground.
I love the way the city designers set the entrance so the mountain peaks could be seen clearly as one came and went. The setting of this place is so peaceful and magnificent. The hillsides were covered with red poppies, vetch, daisies, buttercups, all manner of wildflowers. I can imagine the voices of the crowds in the agora, the women coming from the baths, the sounds of chariots rumbling through the city.
This place was so special. I cannot explain the feeling of walking though this breathtaking city. I liked it much more than Ephesus for some reason. As we exited the main gate, we headed as a group to the travertine pools. Village women were busy scraping the bottoms of one of the empty pools.
There was a sign indicating a trail that was supposed to lead to the site where St. Philip the Apostle was crucified and buried. It lead up a steep hill, past the stunningly restored stadium, and into the hills where there were no crowds. I had about forty minutes to take advantage and so I hiked that same path that Philip would have been made to walk on his way to an upside down crucifixion like his brother and friend in Christ, St. Peter. The going was difficult.
I made the hike in time and sat there for a while. A great sense of peace and sorrow overwhelmed me. Here meditated in the middle of such otherworldly beauty, at the top of a hill near a place where one of the great patriarchs departed this earth.
There are ruins of a church later built in his honor near the site of his death. It too seems to echo with peace and sorrow intermingled. This was a place of accidental pilgrimage for me. When I set out at the beginning of this day...I'd had not a single idea of the bittersweet journey I would be making. But as I reluctantly began to make my way back down that hill, I wept. I did not want to leave the place....I had fallen in love with it, and later, I would note in my memo app on my phone for my children..."When the end of my life comes... bury me here."
People ask me often, now that I am in Turkey... "When are you going to go to the holy land?" presumably meaning Israel. My response to them is this... "I am in the holy land now." And so it was, and is still.