The Southwest of Turkey has plenty of the country’s biggest attractions, and its close proximity to Istanbul ensures it is very well-visited for that reason. But don’t let the crowds you will invariably encounter put you off – they’re well-visited places for a reason.
Pleasant as Selcuk undoubtedly is, it’s not exactly overflowing with must-see attractions. Its one standout, at least in my view, is the Temple of Artemis. Unfortunately, only one pillar remains of its former grandeur, but as no admission applies and it’s a very short walk from the town centre, it’s worth seeing. Like many of the half-ruins scattered across Selcuk, it’s crowned by a nest made by the storks you intermittently see swoop over the town’s skyline. The height of the pillar gives you some idea of how big the Temple itself once was – in its heyday, it was bigger than the Parthenon.
It was possible to walk to the ruins of Ephesus in 45 minutes from my out-of-town Hostel, but I ended up getting a bit lost en route and, without meaning to, actually climbed the hill that overlooks the ruins. Oops. This unexpected detour had some bonuses though, namely some fantastic views of both the surrounding countryside and of Efes itself. An aerial view is something most visitors never get to see!
It may not feature a single ‘elite’ ruin along the lines of the Parthenon in the Acropolis, but as a collective set of ruins, it may just trump all the ones I’ve seen so far. It reminded me of Voluibilis in Morocco, but in terms of its overall wow factor it far outstrips that, and it evoked ancient times in a way nothing else I’ve seen has managed to so far. In fact, I would put it up there with the likes of the aforementioned Acropolis, or the Pyramids and Great Wall of China, which I have also seen.
The undoubted highlights are the famous library of Celsus, which is indeed perhaps the greatest ancient world optical illusion in that it does look much bigger on first glance than it actually is, the theatre and the temple of Hadrian. But there is so much more that demands your attention, and the whole thing unfolds layer after layer like a seemingly never-ending, Greco-Roman diorama.
Isolated as Sirincie may be among rolling hills, this pretty little village has become such a tourist destination that you almost can’t see the houses for the rows of endless shops. Fortunately, only the occasional shopkeeper approaches you trying to sell their wares. The main draw of Sirince is its charming cobble stone streets, fine Ottoman-looking architecture (it actually dates from the 19th Century), views across the valleys below and locally produced fruit wine. My personal recommendation is the Pomegranate, which packs a pleasingly sweet punch!
Pamukkale is a true natural wonder of the world. My first glimpse – a snow white canvas pegged across a sheer cliff face – had the immediate wow factor I’d been hoping for.
As you get closer, the calcite shelves and terraces become more defined, and you get a greater appreciation of just how unique Pamukkale is. Everyone will have their own point of comparison, perhaps, but it almost defies categorisation. To me, they’re what the White Cliffs of Dover might look like if they were turned inside out so that glistening stalactites and crystal waterfalls were on the outside rather than in.
But this description is somewhat reductive, as it doesn’t even begin to describe the pools of warm water that cascade like tiered shelves between petrified waterfalls from the rock.
Clambering on to the terraces is a must, even if you only actually go a little way. You have to do this barefoot, and the ground is harsh and jagged at first. But negotiate this, and as you descend further the ground gradually smooths out in to something more akin to a ridged cuttlefish bone, dusted with occasional patches of cold powder and, of course, dotted with the warm springs. There are also fine views to be enjoyed, with the arms of Pamukkale itself a pincer around the valley below, with a hazy distant mountainscape providing the background.
The icing on the cake is nearby Hierapolis, with its pleasantly warm pool and Roman Theatre that actually manages to trump the theatre at Ephesus – with a little imagination you can certainly picture yourself as a spectator at the Roman theatre!
For me, Pamukkale was the highlight of this area of Turkey, and my favourite place visited so far. But the best was very much still to come…