Turkish Delight: Historical Treasures for a Road Trip on the Aegean Coast

It’s exciting as this is my 99th blog post of Knycx Journeying since started 2 years ago! Every post is a great memory of my journeys and besides, a great opportunity for me to just good through the photos as if I am at that place, that time again. I learned a lot about the history, culture, and traditions of the places that I have been to. I got inspired to write about different places in my daily life and so I am going to keep my posts random and spontaneous, eventually, the blog will become a great archive of my journeys as they are grouped by countries in different categories!

For example, Turkey was one of my greatest journeys – it’s exotic, it’s cultural, and it has a long, rich history. The country’s intercontinental presence makes it interesting and diverse. I have written about the Cotton Castle and the Salt flat, and I have also covered Istanbul and Cappadocia later – How about some man-made heritage sites in the Aegean region?

Departing from Istanbul, the region along the Aegean Sea has deep-rooted relation with mainland Europe and several empires. It wouldn’t be a surprise that it has an abundance of heritage sites that originated from different times. More, the region is filled with resort towns and beaches – After all, it’s by the romantic Aegean Sea! A road trip along the coastline is a great way to appreciate different sides of Turkey.

A road trip could span from about four days to a week, depending on how long you wish to stay in some places. For four days, you should be able to at least cover the highlights and key sites along the coastal area.

Troy

I supposed many would have heard about the Greek mythology of Troy and the famous Trojan War. The war was a ten-year conflict that Greek warriors laid siege to Troy. The most famous part of the story was the cunning trick by the Greeks who built a large hollow horse out of wood and soldiers were hiding in the horse to get through the gates of Troy. Once they were in Troy, the Greeks set fire to the city and defeated the Trojans.

Did ancient Troy really exist?

Well, I said it’s Greek mythology, because the legend may not be 100% accurate, it has been a source of fascination over the centuries about how the war actually happened. Troy was once portrayed in Homer’s myth, the same author of Atlantis. The discovery of Troy has stirred up controversy on whether Atlantis is also true. By the time the field of archaeology began to take shape in the 19th century, many were skeptical, considering the epic to be pure fiction, a founding myth imagining a bygone heroic era. But some scholars believed that behind the superhuman feats and divine miracles, there must have been a grain of historical truth – a was that was really fought and a place where it happened.

Frank Calvert and his brother Frederick went on a diplomatic mission to the northwest Anatolian region of Canakkale. Here, Frank met a journalist and geologist Charles Maclaren. Locals and travelers had long speculated that Troy might’ve stood on one of the surrounding hilltops, but Maclaren was one of the first to publish a detailed topographical study of the area. He believed he had found the site – a 32-meter mount known by the name Hisarlik, derived from the Turkish word for “fortress.” soon after meeting with him in 1847, the Calverts bought 2m000 acres of farmland that included part of the hill. Upon surveying the site, they did not have the funds for a full excavation; later, amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann financed the excavation. Eager to find the ancient city, Schliemann tore massive trenches all the way to the base of the hill. There, he uncovered a hoard of precious artifacts, jewelry, and metalwork, including two diadems and a copper shield. Schliemann announced that he had found Troy and the treasure of its king Priam. But the real treasure was elsewhere.

When later archaeologists studied the site, they realized that the mount consisted of no less than nine cities, each built atop the ruins of the last. The layer Schliemann had uncovered dates back to the Bronze Age, more than 1,000 years too early for Homer. But inside the mount was indeed evidence for a city that had thrived during the Mycenaean Age, with charred stone, broken arrowheads, and damaged human skeletons suggesting a violent end. It was Troy VII, contained in the middle layers and now ravaged for a second time by Schliemann’s careless excavation. The settlement, spanning some 200,000 square meters and home to as many as 100,000 people, thrived until around 1180 BCE. Its position at the southern entrance of the Dardanelles strait would’ve made a formidable strategic location for both defense and trade. Most importantly, there are the remains of a massive fortification wall – perhaps the very same one from which Priam and Hector once watched the Greeks approach. Of course, it’s difficult to be certain that these ruins are the true remains of ancient Troy; and scholars still dispute whether the Trojan War as described by Homer ever happened. Yet the evidence is strong enough the UNESCO has labeled Hisarlik the archaeological site of Troy.

The UNESCO archeological site of Troy is now located on the west coast of Turkey in between Istanbul and the Ephesus; But honestly, the site is not as impressive as many others. Had it not backed up with a famous legend and a convenient location, I guess there won’t be a lot of tourists willing to see a small site that was mainly rubble.

Walking past some of the walls of Troy (VII), there was a wooden horse at the entrance of the site; obviously, it was merely a decoration, but it was effective and successful to remind visitors about the history and story of the Trojan War!

Ayvalık and Cunda

The seaside town is a great pitstop for staying and enjoy some breakfast with the view of the ocean as you move on to your next stop to Pergamon. It’s an ancient Aeolian port-town and it’s filled with prehistoric buildings and charming hostels. Heading south, the Cunda Island is used to be a Greek colony, turning a quiet and cozy seaide resort with harbour under the backdrop of an old European town.

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Pergamon and its beautiful view of the modern city of Bergama

Pergamon

I like the Pergamon. Pergamon was a rich and powerful ancient Greek city in Aeolis, and it was the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon during the Hellenistic period under the Attalid dynasty in 281–133 BC (more than 2000 years ago!).

The acropolis (a citadel of an ancient Greek hill city) is rather well-preserved as I could still see the pillars of the Greco-Roman Temple of Trajan from afar. From the Roman theater, visitors could enjoy a panoramic view of Pergamon and the modern city of Bergama.

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Walking through the acropolis on the hilltop!

The Acropolis was built on a hilltop which traces of its glory could still be seen in the shambles – the Altar of Zeus, Temple of Athena, Temple of Dionysus, and Temple of Trajan are some of the important sites. Pergamon’s library was once the second-largest library in the world (behind the library in Alexandria), filled with 200,000 pieces of scrolls owned by Attalus.

the theater is one of the most well-preserved structures in Pergamon. It has a capacity of 15,000 people and it is a great viewpoint overlooking the city of Pergamon.

However, to view more magnificent arts, sculptures or even some huge structures from Pergamon one has to visit the Pergamon Museum in Berlin today. The Pergamon Museum houses monumental buildings such as the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and the Market Gate of Miletus reconstructed from the ruins found in Turkey.

Izmir, Hierapolis and Pamukkale

Izmir is a popular tourist spot apart from Istanbul as it is close to another natural wonder in Turkey: The Cotton Castle. Pamukkale is famous for its Travertine Terrace, yet it is also a heritage site that you may not be aware of – it’s an ancient Roman spa city founded in 190 BC. At the Hierapolis, the ruins contain a pristine theatre and a necropolis with tombs that expanse for two kilometers. With such a unique combination of natural and man-made wonders, it’s a great stopover of your road trip along the Aegean Coast.

Ephesus

Out of the three ancient Greek cities in Turkey that I mentioned here, the Ephesus should be the most important and famous one based on its historic value and scale. Originally a Carians and Lydian settlement, the city was then Hellenized by arriving Ionian Greeks and developed into a flourishing commercial city. The city’s population had once grown to more than 200,000 and became the largest city in the East after Alexandria until the city was destroyed by the Goths later in 263, and although the city was rebuilt, it had lost its status as a commercial center in the region.

Walking down the Curetes Street towards the Library of Celsus. The pavement has sophisticated water tunnels to drain sewage and it also helps to transport massive massive construction materials. On both sides of the road, you could still see the houses and shops and their decorative details.

To learn more about the history and to see the artifacts from the heritage, visit the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in İzmir. Most of the items collected from Ephesus are shown here, from statues, mosaic paintings, to coins. Imagine the life and what it was like almost two thousand years ago. The most important showpieces in the museum include the bas reliefs of Roman Emporer Hadrian, Artemis, and the statue of Augustus.

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The facade of the Library of Celsus in Ephesus was the most iconic structure left standing (so tall) in Ephesus. It was dedicated to the father of Celsus Polemaenus, and it was the second-largest library at that time – with over 12,000 in its collection (With the biggest library in Pergamon).  
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Stone carving of the goddess Nike

As we were there we saw a lot of crowds from the Mediterranean cruises as many travelers come to visit this world-class heritage on a half-day tour. Ephesus was unearthed at the beginning of the 20th century, and only a few places have retained their original look, having endured several earthquakes in the 17th century. Walking down the well-preserved Roman pavements (The Curetes Street) all the way towards the façade of the Library of Celsus, marveling at the great theater and soaking up the ancient soul of this ruined city. So in case of timing is not a big concern, stay for 2 days and visit the site at a less busy hour (generally, the late afternoon and you may witness a beautiful sunset!)

If you have even more time in Ephesus, visit the Ephesus Archaeological Museum, and the nearby Temple of Artemis – it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World! (But now only 1 column remained).

Şirince

The hillside village and area date back to the Hellenistic period, and it’s also now a village with active agricultural development and tourism. Why? It’s home to the famous archaeological site of Ephesus. The village has picturesque cobbled streets, with bars and cafes on both sides. Enjoy a stroll and fine a viewpoint to see the gorgeous will enlighten your stay.

The impressive Marble Street.
Originally holding 25,000 people, this theater was built in the Hellenistic period and was renovated by several Roman emperors. It was the venue for numerous concerts and performances, as people from the entire city will come for the event. The theater has a mix of both Roman and Greek-style in architecture.

Kuşadası

On a side note, Ephesus’s nearby seaside town, Kuşadasi, is a popular tourist destination where cruises and boats parked during summer, with tourists on their way to Ephesus.

While it doesn’t have many sightseeing spots in town, the city is filled with hotels and restaurants, and it’s a great pitstop to chill and enjoy the sunset after a day walking through the Roman ruins.  The promenade is where the tourists go in the evening, where you will see busking, shops, or simply take a walk by the Agean Sea and look at the sunset. Check out Gazi Be endi Kafe, it is a great place for the view.

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