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Selçuk: Greek culture on Turkish soil

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Sultanahmet in Istanbul
Gulet Cruise
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Vilnius, Lithuania
Prague, Czech Republic
Budapest, Hungary
Brasov, Romania
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Reconstruction of interior of noble house in Ephesus meuseum, Selcuk

Selçuk is located at the west coast of Turkey, near the popular seaside resort of Kuşadası. The West coast of Turkey is a crucible of cultures. As in the rest of Turkey, the Ottoman, Byzantine, and Christians left their marks. But there are especially many remains of the old Greek culture. There is not much left of the great temple of Artemis, but nearby Ephesus is certainly worth a visit.

Upon arrival in Selçuk, someone from ANZ guesthouse is already waiting for us. They were called by the Tango Pension, and that’s as easy as we could wish for. Especially since ANZ appears to be a great place with good rooms, nice relax room with TV and video, a great service, and a complimentary breakfast AND dinner!! Needless to say, the place is almost full, despite the off season.

Attractions of Selçuk

The first thing we do in Selçuk is to make a walk around. At the back of ANZ there is a small road leading to the main attractions of this town. First we pass a Turkish bathhouse, currently being renovated. Then we arrive at the large and apparently important Isa Bey Mosque, to us not very different from other mosques. But then, after walking up a hill, we reach the Basilica of St. John the Apostle. It is supposed to be built on the tomb of the Apostle, who came here with Mary. In the backdrop, on top of the hill, we can also watch the Byzantine grand fortress.

Old aqueduct, and new sculpture in Selcuk, TurkeyWe do not expect much from the town Selçuk itself, since most of the tourists head for nearby Kuşadası. But as we cross the road to the center of town, we are pleasantly surprised. Nice shopping small streets with many restaurants. A bit touristy, but a little further are the places where the locals get their Turkish pizza’s, and so do we.

Back in our guesthouse we chat with some aussies, watch a video, and have a tasty dinner. Meanwhile, Harry check’s out everybody’s plans for the next day, to see if he can be of service. Harry is one of the 3 owners, all sons of a Turk who migrated to Australia, but returned 15 years ago. Turks with an Australian accent, funny and very friendly, mate.

Greek Ruins in Ephesus

Harry brings us and a couple of others with his minivan to the Greek ruins of Ephesus, 3 km from Selçuk. Because of their vicinity, the early Greek set foot on Turkish soil to trade. Celsus Library in EphesusBut when the crude Dorians gained influence around 1200 BC, especially the Ionic people fled to Turkey. Here, the Ionic culture, as part of the Greek culture, blossomed. Later, when the Romans came, Ephesus, the largest Ionic city, became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

When we enter Ephesus, the first sight is a bit disappointing. Not much buildings are erect, and the building blocks are scattered around. The harbor street has some pillars along its side, but is closed to the public, so we head for the amphitheatre. It is large and intact, but not very unique. Then we move on over the marble street, along the old Agora (market place), which is not very well preserved either. Here is supposed to be the oldest form of advertising, a sign to the brothel, but we cannot find it. So far, not so good.

But then we arrive at the masterpiece of Ephesus: the Celsus library. This building is what we would expect from an old Greek building: a façade with pillars and niches with statues. At the side two beautiful arcs behind which are a rooms with galleries and miniature reconstructions of statues and buildings.

Curete street in EphesusWe walk on along curete street, which used to be flanked by rows of statues, from most of which only the pedestals remain. To the right are the nobles houses, closed to the public. To the left is Hadrians temple, with nice façade reliefs. The other temples, fountains, gates and buildings are in a further state of decay (or lesser state of renovation). Yet there is a glimpse of grandeur in every structure along this street.

At the end of curete street, we sit down at the Odeon (small theatre) and wander through the bath houses and brothel on our way back. We even find the advertisement on marble street now. Before we leave Ephasus we also visit the large church of Mary. It is the oldest church in honor of the holy virgin, and here the holy statues of Christ and Mary was decided upon in 431 AD. Currently, despite of the major renovations not much is left of the huge church.

After a few hours we have seen enough of Ephesus. Harry made a good guess and as we enter the parking lot he also arrives to pick us up. We leave Ephesus with mixed feelings, was it disappointing or not? A lot of the sight is in decay, but we should focus on what is still erect, or renovated. Although many statues are moved to museums all over the world, there are still a lot of nice reliefs and other details to be found. So we shouldn’t be complaining.

Temple of Artemis

Remains of Temple of Artemis, with Selcuks Byzantine Grand Fortress in the backgroundEphesus was a lot bigger than the current site. In fact, all of Selçuk was once part of the Greek city. And the temple of Artemis, just outside Selçuk, was one of the seven wonders of the world. It is nearby to our guesthouse, so we decide to pay a visit. We can see the only erect pillar from afar, but need guidance through the bush from a few local boys to reach it.

Apart from the high pillar there are several half high pillars a bit further, and a lot of large bricks. But not as much as you would expect from the ruins of a very large building. It is thought that most of the material of the collapsed temple was used building the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. What remains leaves a bit of a desolate image, large stones on barren terrain. The views of the mosque and the grand fortress behind the pillar are nice, though.

Sirince, Greek town with Turkish people

Greek village Sirence in TurkeyThe relationship between the Greek and the Turks is not a very good one. In the Ottoman period, the Turks repressed the Greek for 400 years, and the Greek are still angry about that. On the other side, the Greek occupied parts of Turkey after the Turkish defeat in the first World War. As a consequence, after the Turkish war of independence (1918-1920), Atatürk arranged a forced exchange of the Turkish people in Greece with the Greek in Turkey. Since then, the Greek town of Sirince on Turkish soil, is inhabited by Turkish people.

The minivan to Sirince winds its way up to the olive plantations. After 7 kilometers of climbing we arrive in the center of the village, where we are dropped off. Despite the low season, there are many souvenir stalls in the covered shopping street. When we escape that area we climb up through the old cobbled streets. Half of the old white houses seem to be uninhabited and in decay. The only locals we meet are a man with a donkey and an old woman selling ugly knitted gloves, herbs, and juices. The old church we visit is also deserted, apart from a little rabbit.

Olives and Oranges

Remains of a Roman Aqueduct in TurkeyFor our way back to Selçuk we decide to walk. It’s a steep road downhill, and we underestimate the strain it puts on our legs. But the environment is great, with olive plantations, later on orange plantations, and the remains of a roman aqueduct. Unfortunately, the cafeterias underway are closed, so we have to wait for a drink until we arrive in Selçuk.

From Selçuk, we pay a visit to Kuşadası, from where our ferry to Samos will go. It appears to be a true tourist resort. There are many large hotels and two water parks around it, and in the town itself many souvenir shops. We take a look around at pigeon island with its fort, lying just off shore. There is also a caravanserai, but that isn’t very special either, and currently there is a hotel in it. After buying our ferry tickets, we quickly return to Selçuk, where we visit the small Ephesus museum, have a meal, and check out. We spend the night in Kuşadası, to take the ferry at 6 AM the next morning.

Selçuk is a nice town, not spoiled by tourism like nearby Kuşadası is. There is a lot to explore in and around it, with the ruins of Ephesus as the highlight. The more ancient sites we get to see later, the more we learned to appreciate Ephesus.

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