Monday, May 26, 2008

Laodicea and Aphrodisias

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Laodicea is a sun-baked site with no shade, located in the valley below Pamukkale. Recently, archaeologists from the University of Denizli have uncovered a colonnaded road. But the ruins of Laodicea are similar to many other sites and our group latches onto the living: a little owl sitting on a column watching us with wide eyes, the site mongrel and a giant dandelion. Some workmen are clearing grasses from the site with sickles, just like ones from Roman times.

This was the site of one of the churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation. God, speaking through his prophet John, says ‘Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.’ This is fitting because by the time the hot water from Hierapolis/Pamukkale got down here, it was only lukewarm. God also says through his prophet: ‘I counsel you to buy white garments…’ This region, near modern Denizli, used to be famous for woolen garments and is now famous for cotton. Finally this is the church to which God says: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in to him and dine with him…’ Rev 3:20

We leave Laodicea and drive through Denizli. When I stayed here fifteen years ago, it was a charming if scruffy town, despite its open sewers. I remember a bread seller coming by with a tray of warm rolls balanced on his head. Now it is a big ugly sprawling town that takes us ten minutes to drive through.

We drive on towards Aphrodisias. It was a large town off the main roads and it therefore enjoyed some safety. The land here is green and fertile, with vineyards, olive groves and pomegranates. Some of the houses have red-tiled roofs and you could easily be in Tuscany. In a field I see a farmer with his big three-pronged rake resting over his shoulder as he goes home for siesta.

It is the beginning of National Tourism Day and some schoolchildren have come in traditional clothes to do a dance. The girls pose for some tourists and other fans.

The famous Turkish archaeologist Kenan Erim spent 30 years of his life excavating here and his grave is in a patch of green near an impressive tetrapylon gate.

In the Museum I find a wonderful character. He is Flavius Palmatus, a governor of the province of Asia. He has effeminate curly hair and a look of great disapproval on his face, as if he had just smelled a bad smell and was trying to puzzle out what caused it. He is four centuries too late for my story but I can use his face for one of my minor characters.

I remember the last time I came to Aphrodisias. We got a taxi to drive us and when we came back out of the site our driver was lying on the back seat in the shade of a tree. As we got closer we saw his sightless eyes staring up into the leaves. He was dead! But no, it turned out he was one of those rare people who sleep with their eyes open. I used that idea in my fifth book, The Dolphins of Laurentum, when Lupus goes to the baths to hire a killer and finds the bath attendant apparently dead.

We go to lunch at a restaurant called Anatolia. I buy a little clay bird whistle from a lady who lives in a tree house. I tip a man whose parrot dances to the tune of his mandolin. Best of all are the loos. You go through a bead curtain into a room with a skylight above a tiny lush patch of green. Coming out of the dim cubicle into the cook green brightness of this little garden courtyard must have been very like living in a small Pompeian townhouse. Only without the flushing cisterns, of course. Despite the fact that it caters for busloads of tourists we have one of the best meals here. This is one of the highlights of the trip for me.

We drive on towards the coast, through fertile undulating hills. We pass an olive oil factory, testimony to the groves and groves of olives here. But we also pass pomegranate, fig and peach. I’m not sure what the crops in the fields are, but my faithful Blue Guide says ‘the Meander Valley has long been famous for the production of liquorice from the roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra [lit. ‘smooth sweet root’] a hardy shrub which grows wild here and on the slopes of the surrounding hills.’ Maybe Floppy can give up mastic gum in favour of liquorice root.

Around 4.00 in the afternoon we stop at the Turkmen carpet factory near Sel├žuk, which is the modern town near Ephesus. My favourite bit is seeing some of the natural dyes that were used and a kind of Kurdish tent they have pitched behind the sales room.

Finally we arrive at our final stopping point on this tour, the Korumar hotel in Kusadasi. It is very big but beautiful, especially if you are blessed with a sea view.

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