Tour offers taste of Turkish attractions

September 22, 1991|By Scott Ponemone

Here are the major stops of our three-week tour to western Turkey that began and ended in Istanbul. Of course, this is not a definitive survey of the region's historic sites, yet it provides a good idea of what the area offers. Suggestions on hotels or pensions and restaurants are given at most stops:

Bursa: The sultans graced Bursa, a city of a million at the foot of snow-capped Mount Olympus (Uludag), with clusters of buildings centered around a mosque. Begun by Sultan Murat II in 1426, the Muradiye with its huge trees, ornately tiled tombs, Koran school (medrese) and imaret (soup kitchen) is a respite from a busy, noisy city. Also see the Yesil Mosque complex with its grand tomb of Mehmet I, the huge Ulu Mosque, circa 1400, and the covered bazaar, where silk scarves, the city's trademark, are sold. The quietest lodgings are in the Cekirge suburb. Most hotels there have their own mineral baths. Try eating Iskender (Alexander) kebab, like a Greek gyro but the lamb is served atop a pita then covered in tomato sauce and browned butter.

Bergama: This is the name of the modern town built around and below the ruins of Pergamon, which came to prominence after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., when one of his generals, Lysimachus, tried to control the region. While famous as a Greek city, the remains are a medley of Greek and Roman. Most impressive is the acropolis with its Greek theater perched high over Bergama and with the Temple of Trajan under reconstruction. Below, just outside of Bergama, is the Asclepion, a Roman medical center with its own theater, temples and colonnaded walkways. While many motels line the approach to Bergama, we stayed 30 kilometers away in Dikili, a small port. The Pension Alme there charged $20 for a clean room with shower and a great breakfast for two. Fish at Dikili's dockside restaurants were simply grilled and very good.

Selcuk: Besides Ephesus, this town has important Christian sites. The Basilica of St. John, partially restored, sits on Ayasoluk Hill, above where his tomb was said to be. High in the hills south of Selcuk is a modest chapel built atop the foundation of the house where the Virgin Mary is said to have died. This humble building under the evergreen trees breathed piety.

Dozens of pensions are scattered along the alleys south of the entrance to the basilica. We enjoyed the Star Pension, which had six guest rooms with showers for $8 a double. The restaurants across the main highway never disappointed, whether for a breakfast of lemon-chicken soup, or a lunch of the tastiest moussaka or late meal of a boat-shaped pizza hot from a wood-burning oven.

Priene: We used Selcuk as a base for a day trip south to Priene and Didymi. The former is a jewel of a Hellenistic city. It was a prominent member of the Ionian League and was visited by Alexander in 334 B.C. But in Roman times, the nearby city Miletus was more important. Thus Priene was not made over by the Romans. After an uphill trek from the car park, we reached a terrace above the broad flood plain of River Menderes (Meander) yet well below the stark marble face of Mount Mykale. An intimate theater, a square council hall (bouleterion) and the Temple of Athena Polias made the visit worthwhile.

Didymi: This was the home of an oracle no less famous in its day than Delphi. The attraction for us was the grand remains of the Temple of Apollo, ordered built by Alexander. The porch for this temple held 120 massive, carved columns, a few of which have been re-erected. The inner court, or cella, where the oracle sat was reached by descending a covered ramp. This court, lined in fragments from a frieze of griffins and lyres, for me at least, still hummed with murmurings of ancient rites.

Aphrodisias: On the return trip north we chose Aphrodisias over the nearby site of Hieropolis and the well-known mineral springs of Pamukkale. Excavation and restoration were very active at Aphrodisias, and large parts of the city were fenced off. But the ruins, mostly Roman, were impressive, particularly the theater, the odeum (lecture hall), Temple of Aphrodite and the stadium. At the crossroads just outside the site were a few pensions. We stayed at Chez Mestan, a double with a nice breakfast on the porch for $8 for two.

Assos: The ruins of this Hellenistic city are beautifully situated. Perched high above the northern Aegean, Assos and the modern village of Behramkale have a great view of Lesbos, a Greek island a few kilometers offshore. The 530 B.C. Temple of Athena, the fourth century B.C. city walls of close-fitting blocks and the sarcophagus-littered necropolis were interesting. Down a precarious road from Assos is a tiny harbor, still used by commercial fishing boats, and a quaint assortment of hotels, pensions, campgrounds and restaurants.

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