A Shocking Surprise Discovered Inside a Little Tourist Town.

12-11-23

Angkor, Cambodia

Traveling for months, you come upon various places that surprise you. Some for the natural beauty, others for the community of people, and still others because you felt right at home there. And I want to tell you about my first surprising experience of traveling for half a year.

Selcuk, Turkey, is a few hundred miles south of Istanbul. Most people know it because of the archaeological site of Ephesus, which is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Visiting Selcuk, you experience a town built in the shadow of history dating back to when the ancient Greeks and the Romans ruled the Mediterranean. They made a wonderful city that still stands after two thousand years.

Selcuk attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year because of Ephesus. That’s because the leading site of Ephesus is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the world. It takes a couple of hours to walk from top to bottom, even if you don’t stop to admire the beauty and stand in awe at the impressive stone and marble structures that are a testament to humans’ creative past.

And each summer, tourists arrive by busloads, overwhelming the Ephesus site with thousands of people during the summer months. Then, they leave the next day for the next tourist attraction on their tour.

Selcuk is small, with under forty thousand people. It survives due to tourists flocking to the city to see Ephesus. Further into the town of Selcuk, which hosts the archaeological wonder, is a quiet community with so much charm and stillness that it makes you wonder why people visit Ephesus and leave.

Unfortunately, most tourists miss out on a wondrous town where they can spend four or five relaxing days soaking in history, seeing more amazing archaeological sites, and enjoying a small-town atmosphere of people who will welcome them like they’ve lived there for years. For example…

The Temple of Artemis

It is listed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but today, only one column is standing, pieced together to mark the site of the original temple. Due to earthquakes in the area, a colossus wonder is nothing more than a curiosity to most visitors. If you wander around the grounds, you will see the countless bases of pillars that once stood with majestic beauty.

You will have to look for them, but when you find the many there, it gives you an idea of the structure’s immense size. You can see a scale model of the temple and a few amazing statues inside the temple at the Ephesus Museum.

The Ephesus Museum

Right across from the bus station, the Museum of Ephesus sits unassuming. Even though people flock to the site of Ephesus, this museum is quiet and uncrowded. Inside are artifacts taken from Ephesus and the temple of Artemis. Although not the greatest or the largest museum of Greek and Roman statues and busts you will ever visit. It stands on its own for the quality of pieces that adorn its exhibits.


Ayasuluk Fortress

High above the city, a large fortress illuminates the skyline at night. It’s a surprising feature that inspires awe at what life must have been like here thousands of years ago. Not only can you see the fortress from almost anywhere in town because it is perched high on a hill, but it is also visible from miles away.

After hiking up the steps to the fortress, you get to a small opening where you enter the fort. Inside little remains of the once fortified fortress. But all the exterior walls exist, many with the original steps used to protect it from invaders.

I enjoyed walking inside to see the fortress and how it was constructed and to look down on the city of Selcuk itself. There are great views of the city.


The Basilica of St. John

Although people travel to Selcuk to see Ephesus, the Basilica of St. John had only a handful of people admiring the ruins when I went there. The remains of pillars and archways surround you as you walk from room to room in the structure. Many rooms have signs telling you what they were used for. This is a little treat to experience and very pleasant and relaxing after you experience the bustling crowds of Ephesus.


The Hillside Town of Sirince

At the bus station, you can catch the regular mini-vans rides to and from Sirince. Traveling through winding roads up the mountain on the twenty-five-minute journey, you get a glimpse of rural Turkey.

Arriving at the town, you’ll find hilly streets and wine tasting to satisfy most any palette. Because of its size, only a limited number of people can invade the town at any time, so you get a good glimpse of a hilltop town. It is a natural and commercial state. But like anywhere, there are things to discover if you get off the beaten path.

Walking around the winding streets, I came upon a sign on the door of a house that said come in and check out our home. Inside, you’ll be greeted by the residents. An older couple who have lived here most of their lives, and you’ll hear stories about how the house has been in the family for over 500 years.

They offer an assortment of homemade crafts and remedies for sale, and they appreciate a donation for a visit. I enjoyed seeing the foot-powered sewing machine she told me made all their clothes and was her grandmother’s sewing machine.

The woodwork on the second floor’s ceiling alone is worth a trip inside.


But What I Enjoyed Most Was the Town of Selcuk Itself

Wandering through Selcuk, you will see the remains of ancient Byzantine aqueducts. Portions of the aqueduct are visible in different areas along with the downtown center. A large part of Aqaduct is a backdrop in an area set up for diners to enjoy.

Surrounded by restaurants and mainly locals, the town shows excitement and community, using this area as a meeting place for the community to gather. You will see people talking, playing board games, and watching the handful of tourists that walk their way.

This area is not advertised or promoted because almost everybody visiting here goes to Ephesus and leaves on their tour bus to the next attraction. And if you’re lucky.


An Amazing Farmers Market

I accidentally stumbled upon the farmers market on my last day in Selcuk. The market in the downtown area was cute and relatively small until I started walking through it and turned a corner to discover how big it was.

Fruits and vegetables were for sale on table after table, along with clothing, suitcases, shoes, housewares, and almost anything you needed to survive. This market was a local thing. Even though a few tourists were walking through the stalls, most visitors never saw this part of Seljuk.

Until next time, enjoy life’s journey.

Joseph O’Brien

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