Visiting antiquity in Turkish towns

March 10, 1996|By Lisa Thatcher Kresl | Lisa Thatcher Kresl,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Standing at the very top of this 15,000-seat classical theater in Side, Turkey, you wonder if the ancients ever griped about being in the nosebleed section. As high as it is from center stage, they couldn't have knocked the view from the rim: a sea of marble and the Mediterranean in all its splendor.

Ephesus is the grandest and best-preserved of this country's ancient cities, it's true. But seeing some of Turkey's other archaeological treasures can be just as rewarding and a lot less crowded.

In the southern town of Side (SEE-deh), the ruins are right on the beach. Use this small town as a base, for example, and you're day-trips away from Aspendos and Perge, where you have all the time in the ancient world to climb around on the ruins and ponder those who now live among them.

Aspendos (ahs-PEHN-dohs), a short drive northwest of Side, got its theater under the reign of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180). The Blue Guide to Turkey calls it "the most perfectly preserved Roman theatre in existence." Particularly captivating are the archways ringing the top.

Beyond the theater are a few Roman remains. Locals walk with you to what's left of the aqueduct, pressing you with cotton blooms and bouquets of thyme and jasmine. But before you can exchange addresses and promises to write, your new buddies are showing you their lace handiwork. "You must buy two," says one woman. "One from me, one from my friend."

Farther west, Perge (PEAR-geh) looks like a Roman graveyard. Goats and geckos scamper on the Hellenistic and Roman remains. Stroll along what's left of a colonnaded street, then pretend you're Dallas sprinter Michael Johnson and take a lap inside the ancient stadium. Constructed during A.D. 2, it seats 12,000. Guidebooks call it "one of the finest existing examples of a Roman Stadium."

But it is Side popular with Germans and Eastern Europeans that sideswipes you.

Still dusty from the ride (16 people in a van meant for 12 at the most), you move from ruin to ruin, past street vendors and shop assistants who say anything to lure you into their rug shops or restaurants. The town's loudspeakers blast a steady stream of belly-dance disco and give the whole scene an MTV-video quality.

A company sales force could learn a lot about the hard sell here. "I promise not to try and sell anything to you," says one rug dealer, inviting you in for tea and conversation.

He doesn't. But his nephew and uncle sure do their best.

Down the street, a bare-chested restaurateur asks passersby where they are from. When he meets the rare American tourist, he yells, "Hi, California!

"I love you, California you are far from me.

"Do you want to eat lobsters, California?

To make his point, he grabs two muddy lobsters and places them on the sidewalk. "You watch belly dancing now," he says slapping them till they jump.

Before you know it, you're seated in his restaurant, sipping apple tea from tulip-shaped glasses and watching him work on his next customer.

The day ends at the peninsula's southern tip, where the remains of the temples of Athena and Apollo (A.D. 2) are romantically lighted. Couples sit on marble remains, nuzzling and gazing at the five columns still standing. Cleopatra and Marc Antony once met in Side for romantic trysts, you're told.

The breeze shifts, and for a moment the Turkish tunes and calls to prayer are drowned out by Robert Plant's voice drifting over from the Led Zeppelin Rock Bar (all Led Zeppelin, all the time).

I

f you go...

Contact the Turkish Tourist Office, (212) 687-2194 or (202) 429-9844.

Pub Date: 3/10/96

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