Tuesday, 4th December, 2012
Antalya, Myra, Pamukkale
For all photos for 4th December, click here to view them on my dropbox site. If you don’t have Dropbox, use this link to sign up and you and I will both get a bonus amount of free storage space.
Another day of travel with a few stops on the way. We left Antalya at 7:30am, and headed west along the coast, towards and into the majestic mountains that I had been photographing yesterday on my walk back to the hotel. Overnight a decent sprinkling of snow had fallen on the tops of the range, at about 1100metres. The first stretch of about 30 kms through the rocky, pine tree covered hills stayed fairly close to the coast, before turning inwards for another 40kms cutting off a bit of a peninsula, and then descending down to the coast again at Kumluca. Along the way we passed the snow-covered Antalyan Mount Olympus (Hakan told us that there are in fact two “Mt Olympus”s other than the one in Greece – this one looked like the real deal!). On the coastal plain, we were back in true Mediterranean climate, passing many orchards growing oranges and hot houses growing tomatoes. About 15km west along the coast, at a marina village called Finike, the coastal plain ends where the hills meet the ocean. The road beyond this point is purely spectacular – it rivals the Great Ocean Road (note to self: come back with motorbike one day), but has something the Great Ocean Road does not: the Turquoise Sea. And it IS turquoise, just like in all those holiday posters of the Greek Islands that you have seen. The road wound around the coastline with the hills sloping up above us on the right and sloping down to the water on our left. Every turn in the road was a photo opportunity.
We were heading for the town of Kale, and the nearby ruins of the ancient city of Myra. Here there are two attractions: the one in connection with the ancient Roman city and the other, of course, religious. The first involved a visit to the 2nd Century theatre, and the earlier Hellenistic rock tombs. This is a fairly accessible site, and there is a lot more to the city yet to be excavated, but whether it will ever be done is another question: the site where the agora would have been, for instance, is covered with orchards and hothouses. The acropolis of the city is quite visible nearby, but we did not ascend to it (I don’t even know if it is open to tourists). Theatres are always fun – I enjoy the experience of the acoustics (the usual rendition of “Oh what a beautiful morning” was given – I always get stuck for a song when its after noon…).
Then, of course, we went around to the great church of St Nicholas, Myra’s favourite bishop. They clearly do a thriving trade on the St Nicholas/Santa Claus theme in the town. We were there just two days before his feast day. Had we been there on the 6th of December, we have had to contend with some excitement, as it has recently become the custom (thanks to the generosity of the Turkish government) for the Greek and Russian Orthodox bishops and metropolitans to celebrate holy mass in the church on this day. Already, Russian pilgrims were in evidence in the town. Nicholas was not a native of this city, but was bishop there until 343AD, when he was buried there. He was supposed (according to legend) to have attended the Council of Nicea, where, when he heard Arius the Presbyter declare “There was when he was not”, gave the said heretic a biff upon the nose. A curious fact: recently, during an examination of the skeletal relics of St Nicholas at his current resting place in Bari, Italy, evidence was found that his nose had been broken and reset. Perhaps Arius biffed him back?
In any case, he was buried here and almost immediately acclaimed a saint. A church was built over his resting place, but this was destroyed by an earthquake. A new church was built during the time of Justinian in the 6th Century, and other bits and pieces added as time went on to create quite a hotchpotch of a building. But of course earthquakes and floods over time did their damage, and most of the church was rendered buried or unusable over time, until in the 19th Century the Tsar of Russia bought the site and paid for the beginnings of its restoration. That restoration is still going ahead, at a great pace at this moment in time with local Turkish government funding: the Turks know a treasure when they find it.
There are lots of beautiful frescos inside the church, dating from the 11th century, including a few nice ones of St Nicholas himself. The old marble tiled floor (6th century? 11th century?) is quite attractive, and there is also the sarcophagus in which the relics of St Nicholas were laid – with a big hole in the front made by the Italian sailors who nicked St Nick and took his remains to Bari in Italy in the 11th century. I apologise for a rather scrambled version of the story of St Nick’s remains in my previous post – the relics in the Antalya Museum are (in all probability) fragments left behind by the Italians (although Hakan tells me that there has been no DNA test done yet to confirm that they are the same as those in Bari).
We grabbed some lunch from a bakery near the church (very nice pizza roll and the cheese and meat lasagna like thing that the Turks make – very nice), and then Hakan took us on one of his “icing on the cake for all being on time” visits to the old harbour of Myra, which is actually a few kilometres south of the city down river at Andriake. Now silted up in shallow pools, a road has been built out to the coastline where many pleasure cruise boats are moored for the winter. But across the swampy area to the east one can view the ancient remains of the harbour from this road. There has been a bit of work done here. The old harbour at which St Paul docked on his journey as a prisoner to Rome (to change boats at the start of the voyage doomed to end in shipwreck at Malta, cf. Acts 27:5ff) has been excavated, and the 2nd Century granaries built by Hadrian have been largely reconstructed. Also discovered on the shoreline at the harbour was a small synagogue, dating from the 2nd Century.
We then retraced our way to Finike along the ocean road, and turned north up into the mountains for the 250km drive to Pamukkale near modern Denizli. We climbed quickly up the steep and winding road to a mountain plateau, about 1000-1100 metres above sea level, where we reached a large (and mostly empty) lake area around the town of Emali, where we stopped for a break. Along the way we were treated to panoramic scenes of mountains topped with snow, eventually reaching up to the snow level ourselves while taking a shortcut to the Antalya-Denizli highway just before Kilzilcadag (we experienced a little snow falling at this point). Our descent finally began at Sogut, although we came down only about another 100 metres in altitude. It had been quite brilliantly sunny all day, but at this point we entered into the rain clouds on the other side of the mountain (just before our late afternoon stop), and the fog was so thick that we could barely see a car’s length ahead of us. I noticed that all the traffic was driving with their hazard lights on, just to make themselves more visible. When we got out for our stop, it was almost dark, though just after 4pm, and very cold – possibly about 5 degrees. What a contrast from the sunshine and warmth along the coast this morning!
It was dark as we passed through the city of Denizli, and out to Pamukkale, where we passed the calcium deposits of the hot springs (lit up with coloured lights) to our hotel, the Richmond Thermal Hotel. This hotel is a little older and perhaps a star less on the five star scale than our other hotels along the way, but its great attraction is the hot thermal pools, both inside and outside, which are sourced with the hot springs for which Pamukkale has been famed since ancient times. These are free to use, and so after dinner I “took the baths”, as they say. I also paid extra for a massage (“Antistress 60 minutes 60 Euros), as by this stage I was missing my usual every three weeks myotherapy treatment. That was a rather odd experience. The masseur was a little woman, with virtually no English (“relax”, “good?”, “is big problem” – in reference to my shoulders – and “massage finished” was just about the limit of her knowledge of the language), and I was somewhat surprised when she began by climbing on my back to reach my shoulders and middle back! But she worked on my feet and shanks, both sore from yesterday’s walk and on my shoulders, so I felt much better afterwards. I decided to leave the days travelogue to tomorrow morning as we are leaving at 9:30am to take in the local sites of Colossae and Laodicea, as well as Hierapolis (the ancient name for Pamukkale).