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Ancient Greek treasures among the ruins of modern-day Turkey
Modern-day Turkey is a tapestry of intrigue and romance. It's been settled and unsettled by empires, earthquakes, prophets and profiteers.

The ruins of Acropolis in Pergamon. Pergamon had the second best library in the ancient Greek civilisation (after Alexandria)
But it was jealousy that gave ancient Pergamon a unique place in history, and love that erased one of its crowning achievements. Visitors traveling down Turkey's famed Turquoise Coast along the Aegean Sea have only to go inland a few miles in the province of Izmir to wander among Greco-Roman ruins. Pergamon was perched high on a hill overlooking a valley and what is today the city of Bergama.

As historians tell it, Pergamon had a library that held up to 200,000 scrolls. The goal was to eclipse the Egyptians' great library of Alexandria. Envious over Pergamon's growing archive of knowledge, the Egyptians stopped exporting the papyrus upon which scrolls were written. So the Pergamonians invented parchment and eventually bound it into the world's first books.

The ancient Greek city of Pergamon, later occupied by the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and Turks, was an outstanding example of city planning and had a theatre, a Temple of Athena, an Alter to Zeus, a large marketplace, a gymnasium and a racetrack. [Credit: Alan Cordova]
The last chapter on the ancient rivalry wasn't written until the rise of the Roman Empire, when a love-struck Mark Antony gave the contents of the library of Pergamon to Cleopatra. Some believe he did it because the Romans accidently burned part of the library in Alexandria, but the result was that most of the city's scrolls and books disappeared.

Pergamon may have lost the literary battle, but it did have the Asclepian, a medical center where dreams were analyzed and the science of medicine was studied.

Ruins of Temple of Trajan in Pergamon
This glorious past has to be imagined as you climb over fallen temples and crumbling city walls. Remaining as a reminder of what was are gleaming white marble columns, pediments and sections of the Roman temple of Trajan and the world's steepest amphitheater. Carved into the hillside, the partially uncovered theater could seat 10,000. Centuries of civilization have been excavated here, yet much of it has disappeared. German archaeologists removed the altar of Zeus in the late 19th century. It can now be seen at The Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Pergamon is just a warm-up for the ruins of Ephesus, an ancient city farther south and a few miles from modern-day Selcuk.

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus
A quick visit to Selcuk is recommended because it's been a center for pottery and ceramics since the 12th century. Two major schools for artisans operate there, selling famous Ottoman-designed plates, platters, vases, bowls, tiles and all manner of decorative ware. The Ottoman Empire valued pottery and supported the growth of the industry. Blue-and-white Iznik patterns along with more colorful designs caught the attention of wealthy Ottomans.

During what is known as the "Tulip" period, the well-to-do would entertain lavishly and show off their tulip gardens by placing candles on the backs of turtles and letting them wander through the beds of flowers. It was illuminating and entertaining for guests. Today, turtles can still be seen in shops and restaurants around Turkey.

The theatre at Ephesus
A wide road of marble pavers winds its way through Ephesus. Lining the road are the remains of a brothel, the Odeon, Hercules gate, the goddess Nike and the ruins of Hadrian's Temple, with Roman terrace houses directly across the road. Adorned with mosaic tile floors, marble walls, columns and frescos in the style of Pompeii, these homes were for the wealthy. Archaeologists are currently excavating the site. The oldest home dates to the first century B.C.

The road through the city continues to what in ancient times would have been a port on the Aegean Sea. Dominating the view from anywhere in Ephesus is the impressive two-story facade of the library of Celsus, which was completed around 135 A.D.

The house of the Virgin Mary at Selcuk
The city is mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Some scholars believe the Virgin Mary lived outside Ephesus after the crucifixion of Christ. Her home is a pilgrimage site where many believers go to offer prayers of thanks and ask for special intentions. Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass there in 2006, and Muslims also visit because the mother of Jesus is a figure in the Quran.

Christians, who were considered an outlaw cult by the Romans, left secret graffiti messages etched in stadium seats and on columns and walls. The symbols can still be seen today in ruins around Turkey, including Aphrodisias, named for the Temple of Aphrodite, and Didyma, where the Oracle of Apollo was located. Alexander the Great was said to have consulted the oracle here and been told he was the son of Zeus.

Cleopatra's pool at Pamukkale
To wash away the dust of time, travelers have been heading to Pamukkale since before Cleopatra famously bathed in the thermal pools and sacred springs. Today the white cliffs made of mineral and chalk deposits attract people to the Denizli province hoping to be cured of joint ailments. For a fee, you can bathe in Cleopatra's pool.

If sharing a warm bath that smells of sulfur with strangers isn't appealing, skip it for a look around Karahayit. A small village with a few modest hotels, it will give you a less touristy taste of Turkey. Women selling sultanas, children riding bikes and the inevitable group of men sitting at tables outside cafes will immerse you in the present after days exploring the past. Modern-day Turkey has been home to countless civilizations, so unless you are a scholar of the ancient world, absorb what you can and marvel at it all.

Author: Patricia Sheridan | Source: Scripps News [March 29, 2011]

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