Tag Archives: Ancient Greece

On This Day – Pamukkale and Heirapolis

Continuing the tour of Ancient Turkey on 27th September 2014 I was at the site of Heirapolis/Pamukkale  an ancient Hellenistic and then a Roman city because it benefits from a rejuvenating spa of constantly warm water that the ancients were rather fond of.

The source of the spring is carefully locked behind bars because as it emerges from the earth’s core it brings with it a lethal cocktail of poisonous toxic gasses that will overcome and kill in seconds.

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Crete – The Palace of Knossos and the Minotaur

Knossos postcard 1

The ruins at Knossos were first discovered in 1878 by a local man, Minos Kalokairinos, and the earliest excavations were made. After that several Cretans attempted to continue the dig but it was not until 1900 that the English archeologist Arthur Evans purchased the entire site and carried out massive excavations and reconstructions.

These days archaeology is carefully regulated and supervised by academics who apply scientific rigour (except for Tony Robinson and the Time Team of course) to make sure that history isn’t compromised but it was very different a hundred years ago when wealthy amateurs could pretty much do as they pleased and went around digging up anything that they could find of interest and aggressively reinterpreting it.

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Arthur Evans

 

Entrance Tickets, The Temple of Apollo at Didyma

It is claimed by some to be the finest single ancient monument in this part of Turkey and this is a part of Turkey which has an awful lot of ancient monuments.

I can confirm that it is very impressive indeed although little of the original structure remains standing; it was destroyed by the Persians in 494 BC, ravaged by time, rearranged by earthquakes and plundered over the centuries for convenient building material, but regardless of the damage I found this to be a stimulating place with history literally oozing out of the cracks and fissures in  the columns and the stones.

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Entrance Tickets, Pamukkale and Hierapolis (Turkey)

Turkey Pamukkale

Heirapolis/Pamukkale  is the site of an ancient Hellenistic and then a Roman city because it benefits from a rejuvenating spa of constantly warm water that the ancients were rather fond of.

The source of the spring is carefully locked behind bars because as it emerges from the earth’s core it brings with it a lethal cocktail of poisonous toxic gasses that will overcome and kill in seconds but once separated from the noxious fumes the clear water flows down towards the edge of the mountain where it calcifies and forms startlingly white travertine pools of dazzling white calcium deposits like a fresh fall of snow that you mind find in Archangel, Alaska or Alberta.

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Turkey, Pamukkale and Cleopatra’s Pool

Pamukkale Turkey

With the car now restored to temporary working order we now loaded our bags and pleased to be leaving the less than four star Grand Sevgi Hotel were relieved to see it for the last time in the rear view mirrors of the car as we made our way to Heirapolis.

This only took a moment or two but at the entrance Hagi (the gadgi) turned the engine off and then it immediately wouldn’t start again and this didn’t look very promising at all especially in consideration of the three hour journey home later today.

It was early and the visitor numbers were proportionately low but there were still a great deal of coaches in the car park and there was some competition to get through the entrance barriers and into the site.  We needn’t have worried however because it was big, very big and soon the visitors were dispersing in all directions and there was plenty of personal space for everyone to enjoy.

Our guide rushed us through several centuries of ancient history with rather indifferent haste and the reason for this was that few people were really that interested in the history and wanted only to get to Cleopatra’s thermal pool with its anti-ageing secrets locked in the warm waters of the spa.

“This site is exceptional by virtue of its superlative natural phenomena – warm, heavily mineralized water flowing from springs creating pools and terraces which are visually stunning. It is on this outstanding natural site that Hierapolis, an exceptional example of a Greco-Roman thermal installation, was established. The Christian monuments of Hierapolis constitute an outstanding example of an early Christian architectural complex.” – UNESCO

Heirapolis/Pamukkale  is the site of an ancient Hellenistic and then a Roman city because it benefits from a rejuvenating spa of constantly warm water that the ancients were rather fond of.  The source of the spring is carefully locked behind bars because as it emerges from the earth’s core it brings with it a lethal cocktail of poisonous toxic gasses that will overcome and kill in seconds but once separated from the noxious fumes the clear water flows down towards the edge of the mountain where it calcifies and forms startlingly white travertine pools of dazzling white calcium deposits like a fresh fall of snow that you mind find in Archangel, Alaska or Alberta.

Pamukkale Post Card

On its journey it is diverted into Cleopatra’s pool and visitors pay an extortionate amount (just my skinflint opinion) of money to swim in the naturally heated thermal pools in the hope of discovering the secret of everlasting youth.

All around this part of the Eastern Mediterranean there are all sorts of places that claim to be Cleopatra swimming pools and I for one am becoming rather sceptical about the claims.  In the days before Ryanair, high speed rail or motorways she seemed to be able to get around much easily than I imagine it really was possible two thousand years ago!  Actually, I have done this sort of thing before on Santorini in 2003 and I am convinced that you only need to do it once to achieve everlasting good looks and a second attempt might reverse the process so I declined to do it again here.

Cleopatra

At this point we parted company with the Lithuanians and the Dagenham Ladies darts team and left the thermal pool and choose instead to go and visit the ruins of Heirapolis.  And how glad we were that we did.  It was quite a slog to the top of the old city but at the end of the climb was a restored ancient theatre that surely has to be amongst the best that we have ever seen and that includes Segesta in Sicily and Merida in Spain and also (again in my opinion) the ruins that we had visited yesterday at Ephesus .  To miss this treat in preference to swimming in a dubious Cleopatra themed swimming pool was a cultural crime!

With everyone else splashing about in the water we felt rather smug about this as we made our way back down and after stopping for a coffee made our way to the edge of the mountain side and the pure white frost of Pamukkale.  A few years ago visitors used to wander all over this site and at Cleopatra’s pool they built a hotel but too many people meant unacceptable damage so with the assistance of funding from UNESCO the hotel was closed down and demolished, the damage caused by diverting the natural spring was reversed and visitors are now restricted to only a small section of the geological wonder.  Pamukkale is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Along with hundreds of other visitors we paddled through the dazzling turquoise pools and winced as we made our way through hidden and sharp travertine surfaces and then we were glad to put our shoes back on and walk awhile through the site.  It was good, I enjoyed it but to be honest I am not sure that it was really worth the agony of an eight hour return trip bus trip.  And it is only eight hours on a good day but I will tell you about that next time.

Hierapolis Pamukkale Turkey

Turkey, The Temple of Apollo at Didyma

TURKEY - Didyma

It was day four already, three days had carelessly slipped through our fingers almost without noticing like sand spilling through an hour glass  so today we decided to do something different and walk to the ancient site of the Temple of Apollo at the northern end of Didim (previously called Didyma).

This was a long way which required walking once more along the Kemal Atatürk Boulevard but on this occasion there was no option to give up half way along because to get to the temple we had to walk the full six kilometres or so, uphill all the way with the midday sun getting hotter and hotter.  To be absolutely honest however we couldn’t make it all the way without taking a break half way along the route.

Finally we began the final approach to the ruins of the ancient site which were predictably surrounded by tourist shops selling all manner of cheap rubbish and carpet shops selling all manner of expensive floor coverings.  The owner was quite persistent that we should go inside and seemed quite unable to interpret our response that we had come to Turkey for a holiday and not to buy a carpet not least because we were travelling skinflint class on Monarch Airlines and only had a ten kilogram baggage allowance.

Temple Didyma Turkey

We carried on to the entrance and then paid the entrance fee of ten Turkish Lira (about £3.50) and then went inside where there was a crowd of people whose attention was grabbed by two mating tortoises.  I have often wondered how they manage this so I was intrigued to watch the smaller male chasing the love of his life and head butting her rear end to get her attention until he had her wedged in a crevice and could have his wicked way.  She wasn’t very attractive I have to say and after all that head butting and finally getting a good look at her I am surprised he didn’t suddenly claim to have a headache and show no further interest!

With the tortoise bonking show over the assembled crowd dispersed and we carried on down the steps and into the ancient site.  Next to Delphi in Greece, Didyma was the most important oracle of the Hellenic world, first mentioned among the Greeks in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo.

Temple of Apollo Didyma

This place would have been huge, one hundred and twenty columns, fifteen metres high and each taking an estimated twenty thousand man days (fifty-five years) to cut and erect.  It was never completely finished however because during the construction process the money kept running out but if it had been then it is said that this would have been one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in precedence over the Temple of Artemis at nearby Ephesus.

It is claimed by some to be the finest single ancient monument in this part of Turkey and this is a part of Turkey which has an awful lot of ancient monuments.  I can confirm that it is very impressive indeed although little of the original structure remains standing; it was destroyed by the Persians in 494 BC, ravaged by time, rearranged by earthquakes and plundered over the centuries for convenient building material, but regardless of the damage I found this to be a stimulating place with history literally oozing out of the cracks and fissures in  the columns and the stones.

Didyma Turket 01

At the centre of the structure was the inner temple and in ancient times the only person to go inside was the Oracle who would take water from a sacred natural spring and then deliver predictions and advice.  In Classical Antiquity an Oracle was a person considered to interface wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future. Oracles were thought to be portals through which the gods spoke directly to people.  Some now believe the water contained something that induced a hypnotic or psychedelic state in the drinker.  Alcohol probably!

We walked around the entire site and then as we left and read the information boards it was suddenly time to feel guilty again.  Apparently there were once statues and friezes surrounding the temple but at some point British archaeologists uncovered them and carted them away and they are now in the British Museum.  I felt my palms getting sweaty, my pulse rate increasing and an Elgin Marbles moment coming on!

Kim at Didyma Turkey

Our plan now was to walk back the way that we had come but a convenient Dolmus came by just as we approached a bus stop and neither of us had the willpower to resist the lure of a ride back to the apartment.  The cost of a Dolmus ride is a flat rate two Turkish Lira and this particular fare turned out to be very good value indeed as it took us back via a long winded circuitous route which provided us with a thorough introduction to the town.

By late afternoon we were ready for a swim so we took the track to Paradise beach, which today, in contrast to only the day before was almost completely deserted.  This might have been because it was a week day or because the holiday season was now over or it might have been because today the sea was rather rough and agitated with a keen wind that whipped up the surface into waves and which made swimming rather difficult.

In addition to the wind it was becoming increasingly cloudy now so we dried ourselves off and took the track back to the apartment where we closed the door behind us, prepared a second self-catering evening meal (kofti meat balls in a spicy tomato sauce with rice and salad) and over a few hands of cards worried about the weather for the next day.

Walking in Altinkum Turkey

Catalonia, Greek and Roman Antiquities and the World’s Oldest Profession

Empúries Greek Statue

“here then, is the proper setting for things Roman, – not Hadrians’s Wall or Bath or St. Albans in cold, wet Britain at the outer edge of the civilised world, but Empúries… on the edge of the great tideless sea – Mare Nostrum.”            John Payne – ‘Catalonia, History and Culture’

The Ancient City of Empúries in Catalonia…

As I said, I had no real expectation of seeing the excavations at Empúries but then Kim took me by surprise and without any prompting suggested a visit.  I expressed my astonishment and reminded her that only recently she had told me that she didn’t especially like ancient ruins but then she corrected me on this point and being more specific told me that she didn’t mind visiting archaeological sites but she would prefer not to go every day!

So with that misunderstanding sorted out we drove to the entrance and paid the very reasonable admission price of €2.40 – so reasonable in fact that it didn’t raise my expectations very much above zero!

How wrong I was however, because this was a very impressive site indeed.  At the lower level we walked through the two thousand five hundred year old Greek city which turns out to be the most important Greek archaeological site anywhere in Spain so rather surprising then that it is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains for the time being on the tentative list already having been rejected once.

After the Greeks came the Romans and they made some improvements and adapted the city to their own preferences and style and later when militarising the peninsula built a whole new city further inland and here we walked around the remains of the Forum, the Temples, the Amphitheatre and sections of the old city wall and inside these the public baths and the once grand villas of the city patricians.  It wasn’t on the scale of Pompeii or Herculaneum of course but as only an estimated 20% of the site has been excavated then who knows what treasures lay buried under the parched dusty fields.

Empúries L'Escala Catalonia Spain

Between the Greek and the Roman cities there was a small but informative museum with a chronological history of the site and several display cases with largely unimportant finds on account of the fact that all the interesting stuff is in a museum in Girona.

After the Romans left the city was occupied by the Franks, the Visigoths and the Moors and then in the Middle Ages it began to be dismantled and used as a quarry and a convenient source of building materials for new towns and villages springing up along the coastline.

Deconstructing the Roman empire…

This is something that has always perplexed me. The Romans built a great city with roads and aqueducts, fresh water, sewage and waste disposal systems, palaces and gardens grand villas decorated with mosaics and statues and then medieval man came along during the dark ages and tore them down – not to build something better but to construct something significantly inferior.

I would like to have overheard the town planning debates and the rationale applied to do this. “We don’t need stone roads”, they’d probably say “a muddy track will do just as well because we don’t need chariots and trucks either.” “We don’t need all these fancy sewers, we’ll dig a hole in the middle of the village to take a crap!” “We can’t really see the point of all these aqueducts and fresh water filtration systems, we’ll just drink the dirty river water!  “And finally we don’t need all of these fine villas with their air conditioning and shady gardens, we’ll take them down and use the stone to make the foundations for some mud huts!”

Spanish highway prostitution…

After an hour or so walking around in the blistering heat of the afternoon we left Empúries and set off back on the road towards Figueres along some busy main roads.  At a roundabout Kim spotted a young girl dressed all in white and looking like the women in the eighties pop group Boney M with thigh high boots, a mini skirt so short it was almost superfluous and a tight top at least two sizes too small to accentuate her bust.

What on earth is she doing?”, asked Kim and I told her that she was a prostitute, “No”, said Kim, “Yes”, said I, “No”, she repeated as she twisted around in her seat to look out of the rear window “Yes”, I said again and then told her the sordid story of roadside prostitution in Spain which for some is a real problem.

Well, I say a problem but it depends I suppose on your perspective.  It doesn’t seem to be a problem to the authorities who do nothing about it, it doesn’t seem to be a problem to the sex tourists who come to Spain to find a prostitute by the roadside and it isn’t a problem to the organised crime gangs who control this lucrative business and is probably the reason the authorities cannot stop it.

It certainly is a problem however for the girls, many of whom come from Eastern Europe and have been lured here by the promise of housing and employment and then find themselves trapped into sex slavery repaying their travel and accommodation costs, being kept permanently short of cash so that the debt never gets repaid and living in fear of beatings and abuse.

Here in Catholic Spain, in a country that prides itself on conservative family values, the country of the evening paseo in the Plaza Mayor and where children’s clothes shops are full of expensive embroidery and lace this nasty business all seems so grossly hypocritical, where people turn a blind eye to something that they cannot possibly approve of.

I can’t imagine anyone, except Xaviera Hollander perhaps, choosing prostitution as a career but to quote Thomas Hobbes life for these unfortunate women can be “nasty, brutish and short” and in the twenty-first century in mainland Europe it is something we should be collectively ashamed of.

I must confess to being a sort of Dorling-Kindersley tourist flitting between palaces and museums, historical centres and plaza mayors, beaches and mountains – picking out the best and turning a blind eye to the crime and the grime but there was no way of missing it here.  To be fair I have never seen that much of this roundabout prostitution in other parts of Spain but here in Catalonia it seems to be a particular issue that surely needs urgent attention.

I read once that the police in Llieda have addressed the problem by requiring the women to wear yellow hi-viz jackets so that they do not present a hazard to motorists and I have to say, come on Spain – I don’t think that that is adequately dealing with it!

Sadly of course it won’t get dealt with quickly because as we know prostitution has been around for a long time and a visit to a Roman antiquity such as nearby Empúries with their well advertised brothels  is ample evidence of that.

Pompeii Brothel__________________________________________________

Related Articles:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

Verona

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Athens and Ancient Greece

P8230075

I was reading a blog posting where the author suggested that while the Acropolis is a place worth seeing  there is not a lot else in Athens and recommended going to Mykonos or Santorini instead.

Well I have to disagree with that because Athens is a wonderful city for visiting ancient monuments and buildings, in addition to the Acropolis there is the Ancient Greek and Roman Agora and the dramatic Temple of Zeus with its spectacular columns thrusting triumphantly into the sky.

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Ancient Greece and Rome

Rome

Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

Segesta, Sicily

Segóbriga

Split

Split peoples square

Athens

Herculaneum

Pompeii

Palace of Knossos

 The Colossus of Rhodes

Greece 2009 – Athens, from Elgin to pickpockets, a city of thieves

The Acropolis Museum and the Acroplois

‘Marvellous things happen to one in Greece – marvellous good things which can happen to one nowhere else on earth’  Henry Miller – The Colossus of Maroussi

But then, on the flip side…

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