Best of the best!

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Middle East » Turkey » Mediterranean » Antalya
April 4th 2018
Published: April 17th 2018
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‘Best of the best’ is a pretty big claim for anything, but that's what we'll be seeing today according to Burak.

Best of the best - Aspendos

First attempt at being the bestest is the amphitheatre at Aspendos. We have to drive about 25 miles out of Antalya to find it and when we arrive we waft through the turnstile barriers with our trusty museum VIP card. The information board tells us this area was known as Pamphylia and that one of the most impressive cities in this area at the time was Aspendos. Ok, so what about the amphitheatre?

We walk through a high ceilinged tunnel, niftily bypassing the museum gift shop, and enter stage right of the most imposing, and virtually complete Roman amphitheatre left in the world. It's truly amazing. The stage backdrop is three storeys high with crenelations at the top, recesses for decorative statues and a large central doorway with columns each side. The curved rows of seating go up and up and up. There must be at least 50 rows and they estimate it would've held around 10,000 people, virtually the entire population of the city. At the very top is a set of archways in a complete semi-circle.

The story goes that there was a competition between Zenon, the builder of the Aspendos amphitheatre and Loser Boy (spoiler alert) who built the impressive aqueduct bringing vital water supplies all the way from the mountains miles away. The winner would get to marry Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ daughter. Obviously she had no choice in the matter! The emperor was standing on the stage of the amphitheatre trying to make up his mind and Zenon just so happened to be hiding at the top of the seating listening. The acoustics of the amphitheatre were so good he could hear every word and it wasn't looking good for him. Loser Boy’s aqueduct was so vital for the health of the city that it seemed to be going his way, that is until Zenon whispered 'amphitheatre’ over and over. Aurelius heard the ghostly echo but didn't know where it was coming from so assumed it was a message from the gods and picked Zenon as the winner.

I decide to try out the acoustics for myself and sing a few phrases. They really are amazing, so echoy and loud. Performances of operas and plays are still put on here. It must be a great occasion for both performers and audience. What a privilege to be able to sing in such an amazing setting.

We walk up the hill to take a look at ruins of the acropolis, agora (meeting place), the basilica and nymphaeum - what the hell is a nymphaeum you might well ask - well it's a kind of grotto, often with water for the local nymphets to take up residence in, obviously! From up high we can see the outlines of a hippodrome where racing and athletics would've taken place. Best of all we see the remains of the gravity fed aqueduct that Loser Boy built to bring water from the mountains to Aspendos. We can even make out parts of the aqueduct in the mountains in the distance. The engineering skills and knowledge needed to plan, survey and build such huge structures would've been a monumental undertaking. But the clever Romans knew the health benefits of moving rather than stagnant water and farmers were also able to tap into the water supplies for crops so all the hard work was worth it.

From the top of the hill, we also get to see the amphitheatre from above in all its glory - the view shared today by a Chinese couple posing for selfies and a shy tortoise hiding in the undergrowth.

Best of the best - Perge

Time to move on to our next best of the best... Perge pronounced variously throughout the day as Pairjay, Purj, Purgee and Purjay. Not sure which is correct but I'm gunning for the first one! Wow what an incredible place. Perge was the bestest and biggest city in the Pamphylia region of Turkey and was ruled through the ages by the Athenians, Persions and Romans, and even Alexander the Great. St Paul the Apostle and his mate St Barnabas visited Perge twice - I'm assuming they weren't saints then as that would be even more egotistical than Alexander and his declaration of Greatness! But I'm more impressed with the famous mathematical citizen of Perge - Apollonius who lived there from 262BC and wrote books on conic sections (i.e. splitting a cone and getting a circle, an ellipse, a parabola or hyperbola depending on the angle of slice). He also used this knowledge to postulate about astronomy and the orbits of planets. What a dude!

It is actually really easy to imagine what life would've been like for past citizens of Perge as so much of the archaeological remains are still very much intact. As we arrive we see to our left a large amphitheatre (with these amphitheatres we a spoiling you!), but the most amazing structure is a huge horse-shoe shaped stadium with massive arches along the outer perimeter holding up the banked seating. It's one of the biggest and best preserved of its kind and I'm blown away with the brilliance of the structural architecture. The limestone blocks that create the arches curve so seductively around the many angles of the building. We enter the stadium through one archway and emerge into the arena. The stadium is estimated to have seated a whopping 12,000 people. and it's easy to imagine the noise and clamour of the crowds as they cheered on the athletic events.

Moving further into the city we see so many intact columns that line the streets and the agora (shopping mall to you and me). All around this meeting place are sectioned off areas that would've housed the shops. In the centre of the square market area is a circular, roofed structure that was used to keep items such as fish and meat cool from the heat of the day. Also at Perge are two massive towers currently undergoing archaeological study and Roman gateways many storeys high and then, most amazing to me, there's the Roman Baths. There are three separate baths that would each have held water kept at a different temperatures. Fires were lit and water flowed over these through pipes to be heated to different temperatures. There are steps down into the pool areas and it's all just so incredible to see so much detail. Normally it is hard for me to picture what archaeological remains would've looked like when new and I laugh at those books with flip sections that show 'this is how it used to be' and then you flip to a pile of nondescript rubble that is today's reality. Here at Perge imagination is not required at all as it's all laid out in front of you, virtually intact.

Past the agora we move onto a massively long street paved with stone slabs and bordered by yet more complete columns and little shops. Along the central section of the street, for the entire length, runs a pool (no longer containing water) that is sectioned off every few metres. It's just so easy to picture people going about their daily business in the city, chatting as they strolled along the main street, going to the market to buy food, dropping into the stadium to watch the athletic types, popping in to see friends at home.

It's hard to drag ourselves away from this gem of a city but we are on to more 'bests'.

Best of the best - Duden Waterfall

Ok, so maybe here I'm stretching the 'best of' labeling somewhat. We visit some waterfalls and yes, they are very pretty and yes, we can walk behind them, but I've actually seen much more impressive waterfalls in Iceland and I'm sure there's many more spectacular cascades of water, but for today these are the best waterfalls I will see, so I'm sticking to the nomenclature. We have a spot of lunch at the top of the falls and then drive back towards Antalya. We are dropped off at our next 'best of' which really can lay claim to such a title...

Best of the best - Antalya Archaeological Museum

Now this museum does indeed turn out to be a best of the best. Billed as one of Turkey's finest it sure does live up to such accolades. Inside we find so many wonderful statues discovered mostly at Perge. The detail is stunning, folds of fabric, veins in hands and arms, more pert bottoms! Having just visited the ancient city of Perge it is easy to imagine these artistic treasures lined up along the main street or adorning the amphitheatre. Some statues are huge, much bigger than life size, and the grandeur they evoke is incredible. There are sarcophogi, with such detailed stone masonry on the outside and cabinets display some of the more delicate finds, blown glass bottles and tiny containers for medicines or perfume; bangles, necklaces and other jewellery, so delicate and perfect. There are pots, metal instruments for tending to wounds and coinage from many different eras. There are mosaic tiles, wall friezes, and so many busts some even with the noses still intact.

What a 'best of the best' day. We were all blown away by the technical building skills of the engineers and sheer skill and artistry of the sculptors that together created such opulent cities all those hundreds of years ago.

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