Aezani, Turkey 9 – 5/2014
It was already early afternoon by the time we left Eskişehir. Our next destination was the famous Greek ruins of Ephesos south of Izmir on the coast but then we spotted a “ruin” symbol on our Michelin map. What a great discovery! It turned out that Aezani was an ancient city in western Anatolia on the Penkalas River.
Just at the edge of town we found the ruins of the Temple of Zeus and the combined theatre-stadium complex built to honor him by Hadrian in 125 AD. Though we would be soon heading east into mostly Muslim countries, it never hurts to have the mighty Zeus on your side. As I previously mentioned, for thousands of years in what we now call “Western Civilization”, Zeus was the head “God”. There were other Gods and Goddesses beneath him, (He loved to delegate.), but he had the final word and he was worshiped by learned philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates and a major part of the world before they discovered it was not flat.
The city of Aezani (now called Çavdarhisar) really seemed more like a small poor village than the important political and economic centre it had been in Roman times.
Arriving at the deserted parking area at the edge of town we were first greeted by the local tourist dog. We bargained for permission to park for the night with a bowl of bread and milk and he immediately claimed us as his territory, sleeping outside The Turtle V the whole night and barking when any other dog approached.
The ruins of the Zeus Temple, amphitheater and Roman baths were literally in people’s backyards. There were no guards or ticket booths, so we enjoyed the freedom of wandering through the huge blocks of stone, tossed about like so many pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. Some of the architecture had had withstood the test of time. We sat on the steps of the amphitheater and tried to imagine a performance.
Beyond the amphitheater were the lavishly equipped Roman baths with exercise and relaxing areas. We could still see the remains of the rich marble fittings of the bath hall and the water and heating channels. At one end of the hall there was a marble statue of the goddess Hygieia. Interesting, even if you were fortunate enough not have taken Latin in high school, Hygieia was the goddess of good health. (Sounds like “hygiene”, New Latin hygieina, from Greek, neuter plural of hygieinos healthful,) She was a daughter and attendant of the medicine-god Asklepios, and a companion of the goddess Aphrodite. Her sisters included Panakeia (All-Cure) and Iaso (Remedy). Nice ladies to have hanging around the bathhouse.
Many of the beautiful rock carvings that were too heavy for looters to steal lay scattered on the ground, made more impressive when you realize that each piece had been hand-chiseled.
Beyond the baths and the amphitheater, the impressive pillars of the Zeus Temple rose proudly on a grassy hill. Despite earthquakes, vandalism and a few thousand years of weather many of the pillars were still intact.
Beneath the temple we were surprised to find a huge crypt, believed to have been the seat of the cult of Cybele, the mother goddess of Anatolia. Anatolia is often considered to be synonymous with Asian Turkey, which comprises almost the entire country. Its eastern and southeastern borders are widely taken to be the Turkish borders with neighboring Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, in clockwise direction. An arched ceiling towered over the room giving it a feeling like it had been built yesterday. Birds floated in and out through openings in the walls. A pigeon sat on her nest keeping a baby chick warm.
With a salute to Zeus and final pat on the head of our private guard dog, we headed southeast toward the famous Greek ruins of Ephesos.