Three years ago I came to Turkey and spent four days on the Aegean coast, walking on antique pavers, breathing ageless air, and stirring sleepy particles of ancient Greek and Roman dust. During that time my travel agent arranged for me to spend two days with Y, one of the private guides here. I found him to be knowledgable, personable, and overall exceptional, providing not just a glimpse into ancient history and archaeology, but also a window into Turkish culture.
This isn’t necessarily the sort of thing that can be replicated. Two implacable hands mark the passage of minutes and hours, moving only in one unyielding direction, and we aren’t granted the merciless capacity to rewind that clock and retrace our fading footsteps. Memories, too, deceive, smoothing rough edges and sometimes even righting wrongs when we look at them across the lens of years. So somewhere inside, even though I confidently asked Y to guide us again, I had a sense of trepidation. “What if I am remembering wrong?” I fretted, worrying that perhaps he wasn’t as spectacular as I remember, or that D wouldn’t like him as much as I had. In this case, however, my memory was spot on. Y is amazing.
The three of us climbed into the white Ford Focus diesel and headed south and east out of Kusadasi and into the Turkish countryside with D behind the wheel. We passed olive groves and peach orchards, farmhouses and hoop houses. As we went along, Y pointed out some things that I had forgotten from my past visit, such as the massive geothermal power plants that sit between the roads and the mountains.
Our first destination was the 2200 year old remains of Laodicea, one of cities featured among the Seven Churches of Revelation.
As we turned the corner, the skeletal remains of columns rose up like bony fingers clawing their way out of the clay, away from the relentless grasp of history’s grave.
We walked down the main street of town and discuss the history of this place. With a population of 100,000, this was a wealthy city, as the region produced some of the best textiles in the Roman Empire, as well as the only cure for cataracts. According to Y, this is one of the fastest growing archaeological sites in Turkey, and every time he comes here something new has been recovered and restored.
We quickly encounter this ancient backgammon board. I remember the hours spent as a child playing the modern version of this game with my older brother. He almost always won, and I still bear the deep emotional scars from those perpetual losses. They were good times.
Further down the road, we encounter one of the most impressive sites here: the reconstruction of “Temple A.” We don’t know to which god or goddess this temple was dedicated, but the climb up the stairs was simply magical.
We pass the massive agora and turn to the right, following the grid of the ancient city. Around us bits of stone peek out from the surface of the earth, asking to be found. As we walk along, the first theater here comes into view. The upper bowl has been restored, but the lower bowl is a mass of rubble. I’ve seen innumerable ancient theaters, but I can’t think of any in this state of disrepair.
Well, this was outdone as soon as I got to the second theater. This city, unique among her contemporaries, had two theaters, likely reflecting the local metropolitan population.
Our last stop here was in the basilica of Laodicea. Y regularly gives tours of the seven churches of revelation, one of his favorite tours, and this is one of the stops they make.
The grandeur of the structure is still visible, if you squint your eyes a bit.
And the floor here is simply stunning, covered in elaborate mosaics some of which resemble hand-woven rugs.
Toward the back of the cathedral are the unmistakable remains of the baptismal font, its stones carefully laid back in place. I pause to consider the countless people who received their sacraments here.
Moving on, we stopped in town for lunch and then continued to Pamukkale, with her grand limestone cliffs and pools. I have been here before. This time I decided not to go paragliding, instead walking about the site to take in her energy.
D rested at a bench for a time, nursing his foot, while Y and I ultimately climbed the rocky pathto the ancient theater, which I hadn’t seen the last time I was here. It really is a stunning theater, with a remarkably elaborate rear wall.
My curiosity sated, Y and I returned at last to find D, and returned to our car where we took our seats for the long drive back to Kusadasi. D again took the wheel, driving as I dozed in the back seat. We arrived just before the setting of the sun. And then we cleaned up for a great Turkish dinner and a much needed rest.