In the City of Love

Thursday, 6th December
Aphrodisias

For all photos for 6th 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.

I think I have died and gone to heaven. I have just checked in to my room at the wonderfully named “Charisma Deluxe” hotel on the shore of the Adriatic in Kusadasi near Selcuk/Ephesus. When I say “shore”, I mean directly on the coast. I am sitting out on the balcony of the room smoking my pipe overhanging the ocean below. The chill is beginning to set in now that the sun has gone down (it is 5:15pm) but when I arrived it was very pleasant outside (no breeze to speak of). To think that this morning in Pamukkale it was near to freezing and raining and grey for most of our journey here this afternoon! Turkey has as many weather zones as Australia!

As I said, we left Pamukkale this morning after a cold and wet night at 8am, and travelled to the other side of the mountain range (out of the Lycos Valley) off the beaten path a bit to get to the ancient site of Aphrodisias. As the name suggests, the city was named after the fertility/love goddess Aphrodite (and her little mate, Eros), to whom there was a major temple. It had been settled earlier, but the Greeks converted it into a major centre in the Hellenistic period, and it continued to be honoured by the Romans. You can guess that in a city named Aphrodite, a major form of “worship” included temple prostitution, and there are very large baths on the site dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian. A beautiful small pool near the baths has a nice marble of statue of a male nude. When Christianity became the state religion under Theodosius in 381, the name of the city was changed to Stauropolis, or “the City of the Cross”, and the temple converted into a Christian church and the surrounding precinct into a centre of Christian learning. The bishop took over the “palace” and the little theatre-like meeting room of the town became a place for ecclesiastical meetings.

The whole site is incredibly beautiful, at least at this time of the year. The grass is green all around, and covered in oak and pomegranate trees (the pomegranates left on the trees were all over-ripe and split open, but tasted very sweet – much better than the sour piece I tried in the hotel this morning). One of the most arresting sights is that of the tetrapylum, a structure at the entrance to the Temple of Aphrodite, designed along the lines of a cross roads covering. Nearby is the grave of the principle excavator of the area, Professor Kenan Erim, who died in 1990, single and childless. He asked to be buried here since the site was his home and every statue he uncovered were his children, and truly, one could hardly hope for a more serene resting place.

Absolutely breathtaking, however, is the stadium on the very northern edge of the city right up against , which Hakan jested is called the “O my God” Stadium, since that is the usual reaction of visitors who enter it for the first time. It is as large as the hippodrome in Istanbul, fully constructed of solid marble, and – without any reconstruction necessary – is virtually complete. I was tempted to run a lap of the stadium, but the danger would have been tripping over a half embedded lump of marble. In addition to this, there is a marvellous theatre, and an agora with a recreational pool in it about twice the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

Hakan left us to our own devices after showing us around the site, and I used the time to tramp over the temple/basilica area and then around behind the baths. I enjoyed just being out in the country side, really – it was a bit like being back home except for the 2000 year old ruins sticking up all around the place – and this was such a beautiful site. I spent so much time on the site itself that I didn’t have time to go into the museum at the entrance as other members of the tour group did. The museum contains much of the statuary found on the site, and other artifacts, which would have given more insight into the history of the city, but I don’t regret having spent my time outside. We gathered back at the entrance and boarded the tractor-trailer transport that had brought us here from the bus stop. Hakan then took us around to a local “rustic” Anatolian restaurant for lunch. This was an extremely nice way to mark the feast of St Nicholas – with a feast! The host came out with a tray of the dishes that he would prepare for us, and went through them, what they were and their prices. While he took our orders, hot bread was served from where they were prepared and baked in the wood fired oven at the back of the restaurant. I chose the soup and the trout, but others had pide, or mushrooms and cheese or fried cheese rolls – all very nice. I have been a bit bored with the hotel buffet style food for the last few days, and it was good to have something a little different and more interesting again.

Then we began our journey toward Ephesus, or, more strictly, Kusadasi where we are staying the next two nights on the Adriatic coast. We rejoined the main highway to Izmir, and then travelled down the Menderes River valley – in ancient times called the “Meander”, from whence we get our word. So you could say we literally “meandered” our way toward the coast. It rained for a good part of the way there, and it appears that we are in for rain for the next few days too.

We arrived in through the town of Selcuk, to which I had been before in 2007, passed by the site of Ephesus, and then pulled in at a leather goods sales room. This was an optional stop along the way, but as I was the only one who didn’t want to take the option, Hakan arranged for a man to drive me to our hotel. this is really a very nice hotel, right on the coast as I said above. I am glad I didn’t waste a moment of time elsewhere as I just wanted to enjoy the location for a bit. It looks like the sea can get pretty rough here at times – there is an expanse of decking below the hotel over the ocean that is undergoing repairs – it appears to have been wrecked by a storm.

I spent some time writing up this entry to my travelogue before the others arrived, and then went with them to mass and dinner. After dinner, I was feeling quite tired, so I went to bed early, about 9pm. There was a thunderstorm brewing in the west…

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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3 Responses to In the City of Love

  1. Stephen K says:

    Another wonderful travelog, David, thank you. [This pilgrimage must be costing you (or someone) a fortune!]

    I also got to thinking about the inverted commas around the word “worship” when you were telling us about the temple prostitution in Aphrodisias. I fully understand where you’re coming from, but inverted commas are dismissive.

    We who are enculturated in one religious form and theology are very ready to feel that other forms are alien or false. In the case of prostitution, it seems difficult to grace it with the notion of worship because (a) we are accustomed to thinking worship consists solely of prostrations in prayers, and (b) grubby commercial hands are involved and we see it as simply a case where sex is reduced to a commercial transaction, and the notion of a woman’s body is reduced to a plaything for male lust.

    But if we think about things a little more, perhaps we have no right to be so dismissive. I can well imagine that it is a coherent theology where the goddess of love is best honoured by the sexual act. The fact that temple priests have profaned sacred concepts is not confined to pre-Christian times: the history of indulgences and simony is perhaps the least unsavoury of Christian profanations. The religious question is: as Christ, sacrificial Lamb, demands self-sacrifice and “taking up the Cross”, does not Aphrodite, goddess of erotic love, demand eros rather than abstinence? One has to place oneself in the mind and heart of the devotee of the goddess. I suggest the former and that the latter would be an insult or blasphemy.

    Perhaps, though, you are right to invert the commas where temple “prostitution” is concerned. It is not sex with the priestess, or sex between worshippers of Aphrodite, that in itself does not qualify as worship, but sex used as a means of temple revenue.

    There is also the point that we humans are so prone to justification: we often tend to rationalise what we do. Many of those who abandoned themselves to temple sex in the name of worship may indeed have simply seen it as a convenient avenue for self-indulgence; as many Christians, Wiccans and others, who immerse themselves in particular liturgical forms of worship, insist they are not simply indulging their own psycho-emotional preferences. but tapping into abiding, objective synergies.

    My point is not to suggest that all paradigms have equal conceptual merit but that worship is very much a “horses for courses” thing. I cannot in good conscience dismiss the lowest of Anglican morning services as any less worship of God and the resurrected Christ as the lowest of Masses.

    Aphrodite may coherently be regarded as the conceptualisation of God in a divinely female and erotic aspect that reflects particular human religious and existential instincts. It is not classically Christian to express it this way, but classic Christian soteriology is universal, “Catholic” no less, after all, and thus embraces every sinew of human experience and condition. In a sense, pagan worshippers pre-figured Christians.

    But these are simply thoughts that occur to me. What do other readers think?

  2. Schütz says:

    Quite reasonable reflections, Stephen. I am reminded that there are some Hindu tantric traditions in which sexual intercourse is regarded as a form of spirituality too. Just very hard (in our culture at least) to separate the notion of such activity from human lust. It goes completely against the Hebrew mindset at least, and feeds again into my reflections on monotheism. It should be noted that Hinduism has a panopoly of male and female deities and it is in this context once again that we find some corners of it practicing such rituals.

  3. Schütz says:

    And regarding the cost, it isn’t a cheap trip. But we are doing it at off peak, and so the rooms at the hotels and a number of other charges are much cheaper than they would be in warmer months. For instance, our hotel on the Adriatic was advertising rooms for about $150 a night, and I would be grateful for that price in Melbourne. It is much cheaper because of the strength of the Australian Dollar. In the interest of disclosure, I should point out that I am being sponsored in this by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission. I couldn’t afford it on my own. I am taking 5 weeks long service leave to do it in as my end of the package, but after ten years behind the desk in the executive officer role, they thought that a bit of professional development was probably in order. It is an accredited course (in fact two courses) with Catholic Theological College, and I am auditing it.

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