Turkish Discovery On The Rotterdam, Part Three: Kusadasi and Marmaris

Text and photos: Kalle Id

This is third part of Kalle Id’s report from a ten-day cruise exploring Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline onboard Holland America Line’s 1997-built Rotterdam, this time exploring Kusadasi, the ruins of Ephesus and the tourist town of Marmaris. Read the first and second part of the report here.

Friday, 15 November 2013: Kusadasi

Our sixth day onboard the Rotterdam dawned in the Turkish town of Kusadasi. You could tell that we were still in Turkey by the giant hilltop statue of Atatürk that was the first things visible from our balcony in the morning. For today, Kusadasi was to prove a short detour, as our main objective was to visit the nearby ruins of Ephesus, one of the best-preserved cities of the antiquity.

Before starting for Ephesus, there was one thing to do: complain to the front office about our toilet not working properly. This accomplished, we headed out to town.

Morning view of Kusadasi, with a statue of Atatürk just visible at the top of the hill.

Getting to Ephesus was an interesting part of the day in itself, as we had not booked an excursion from the ship, as these were relatively expensive and offered very little time to actually spend in Ephesus (nor had we booked an excursion before-hand from anywhere else). Our original plan was to take one of the local dolmus buses, but we had no idea from where these depart, the timetables or how much they cost – none of this information is available on the internet. Resultingly, once in Kusadasi (and past a shopping mall that had been built on the harbour’s passenger exit) we headed for the local tourist information, handily located right next to the cruise port.

Almost immediately upon entering the tourist information we were hailed by a taiwanese (as I later learned) man who was asking if we wanted to share a taxi to Ephesus. Naturally we did. In the end there were seven people in our taxi: the three-person Taiwanese family, a Canadian couple and us two Finns. It also turned out that the people we were sharing with were all from the Celebrity Constellation. Despite our sharing a taxi, the driver still charged on a 20 € per person -basis – but as he was willing to take us to Ephesus and back, this was actually very good value for money, especially compared with the excursions offered onboard.

Once in Ephesus, negotiations ensured about when our driver would come to pick us up. He wanted to come back in 1½ hours, claiming that was enough to see Ephesus, and that he would take us to see the local shopping opportunities afterwards. Meanwhile, everyone in our group were more of the opinion what we’d need five hours to properly see the place. Eventually we settled on four hours.

An overview of Ephesus, as seen from the administrative agora down the Street of Curetes, with the Celsus library in the background.

Now how to describe Ephesus? Trying to write this I’m left with a feeling that words – and even pictures – fail to capture the essence of walking through a city that was founded 3000 years ago and that was eventually abandoned 2400 years later (though the city had been in decline for the last centuries of its existance, due to harbour silting up). It has been ruled by various Greek states, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantine, the Seljuks and finally the Ottomans. It was the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis (its remains are located away from the main city and as such we did not see them). It was also a major center for early Christianity, with the apostles Paul and John both having lived in the city – tradition also holds that Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life there.

We entered the complex from the land side (east) entrance (there is an extrance/exit at both ends of the complex, so you don’t need to walk through it twice), which opens up to the administrative agora, as the name proposes this was the area where the city’s administrative buildings were centered. Going further from the administrative agora we passed through the Gate of Hercules and into the Street of Curetes, which appears to have been a residential area for the city’s well-to-do inhabitants, as well as a place for various shops along the street.

An overview of the terrace houses. The houses appear to have been a single building, housing six separate apartments.

A further attraction along the Street of Curetes are the terrace houses, a group of restored Roman-era houses. They are contained within a separate shelter erected around the ruins. Access there costs 15 tl on top of the regular entry charge to Ephesus, but it is money well-spent as the houses are relatively well-preserved and they offer an interesting glimpse to the lives of upper-class Romans.

Across the street from the terrace houses is one of the better-known sites of Ephesus, the Temple of Hadrian (which unfortunately was being renovated during our visit). Also next to the terrace houses, at the end of the Street of Curetes, is the Library of Celsus, probably the best-known landmark of the entire complex. Originally erected 120 AD by Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, the facade of the library was reconstructed using surviving original pieces in the 1970s.

Located next to the Library of Celsus is the city’s main commercial agora. This wass out of bounds for visitors as the excavation works in the area are still ongoing – in fact, it is estimated that currently only 15% of Ephesus has been excavated!

Continuing on our way, the next major sight was the largest of them all, the theatre that could seat 24,000 people. As such, it is the largest known theatre of the ancient world. It also gives us the chance to estimate approximately how many people lived in Ephesus at its peak: in Roman cities, theatres were constructed to house approximately a tenth of the city’s population in one sitting. Hence we can extrapolate that Ephesus had around 240,000 inhabitants during the Roman era – although the accuracy of this number has been contested by modern historians, who place the city’s likely number of inhabitants at 33,000-56,000 people.

A view from the highest (accessible) seats of the theatre towards the (now silted up) harbour, with the harbour road on the right.

By this point we actually had to start hurrying a bit, as our four hours were almost up (my advice to anyone going there is “make sure you have enough time”, four hours seems to be the absolute minimum if you want to see the place properly).  We did still take a quick detour to “The Double Church”, also known as the Church of Mary and the Church of the Councils, probably built for the Third Ecomenical Council (431).

Eventually we were out of Ephesus’s west entrance at precisely the time our taxi was supposed to pick us up – and indeed, both the taxi and the rest of our group (who we had “lost” fairly soon after entering Ephesus) were there waiting. The next part of our itinerary as proposed by the taxi driver was a visit to a local carpet-making collective for a carpet demonstration. Now to be honest, this did not interest us that much, but as Turkish carpets and carpet demonstrations had been talked about a lot onboard, we decided to give it a go.

I have to say that while the Turkish carpets are very well made (by hand of all things), I wouldn’t want one in my home. But all the hype about Turkish carpets being the best in the world and making fantastic heirlooms did come in very handy when I gave my brother a mouse mat that looks like a Turkish carpet after returning home (the joke was improved by the fact that the Finnish word for a mouse mat literally translated as “mouse carpet”).

Once back in Kusadasi, we still had a little bit of time to look around the town. The town center had a bazaar area with pushy salesmen for benefit of tourists that was, frankly, repugnant. A short walk off the more touristy area is Güvercin Adaci (lit. “pigeon island”), a peninsula housing an old fortress (of which I could find no information online). The fortress houses a museum, but that was closed so instead we had a walk around the island.

Once back onboard, the first order of business was to find out if our toilet had been fixed or not. It hadn’t been, despite a call from the front office that claimed otherwise. Toiler not working complaints number three (I think – I may have lost count at some point) accomplished, we settled in to spectate our departure until heading to La Fontaine dining room for what would turn out to be our last meal in that particular venue.

This night, I tried duck liver paté for the first time in my life. It turns out it tastes exactly like Finnish “liver sausage” (that is not actually a sausage), one of the most low-end foods in Finnish cuisine. Understandably I’m not a bit puzzled at what buzz is all about when it comes to duck liver paté

Which is not say the food would have been bad, far from it (although I was a bit puzzled by the taste of my blueberry sorbet – until I realised it was actually blackcurrant). But on the other hand it must be said that the service was slow and – especially with us coming from the promised land of self service – the main dining room didn’t offer any kind of added value compared to the buffet. It only took more time.

For the evening’s entertainment, we decided to head to the ship’s cinema, the Wajang Theatre, which was showing the science fiction movie “The Europa Report”. As a sci-fi buff I’m a bit puzzled how this film had managed to pass me by previously – though it must be said it was not the best film of all time in its genre. After the movie it was time for bed and Marmaris that awaited tomorrow. Even our toilet had been fixed during the evening, so the day ended on a positive note.

Saturday, 16 November 2013: Marmaris

Marmaris old town, as seen from the Marmaris Castle.

On the seventh day of the cruise we found ourselves at Marmaris in Turkey, on what was the Rotterdam’s first visit to the port. To celebrate, the sun had come out and the sky was nearly cloudless. There were some clouds in our cabin, as our toilet was – again – not working properly. By now this had become a normal part of the daily routine, so following breakfast at the Lido.

The first thing we was of Marmaris was its marina, the biggest on the Mediterranean. Past the marina is the town itself, which… to be honest was a disappointment. The city was clean and modern and almost entirely built to serve the tourism industry. According to Wikipedia, the town’s population is around 30,000 people – which grows to 400,000 if you count the tourists staying the hotels during the summer season. In other words, it’s a tourist trap of the worst kind.

The most common archeological exhibit from the antiquity: amphoras. Although this time particularly nicely presented ones.

The only things actually of interest in Marmaris are the Marmaris Castle and the small old town surrounding it. The castle is said to be a whopping 5000 years old, though the current form of the structure dates from the 15th century, when Ottoman sultan Süleyman the Magnificient rebuilt it to serve as a base for his assaunt of Rhodes to drive out the Knights of St. John from their base there. Today the castle houses a small but interesting archeological museum (which could have benifited from better english translations and more information about the objects though).

Having seen what little there was to see in Marmaris, we headed back onboard. Surprisingly soon after our late lunch at the Terrace Grill at the Lido (which seemed to serve the same texmex buffet every day), it was time for departure. Now even though we left at five in the afternoon, it was already dark when we departed – well, sort of. With the cloudless sky and the full moon, the moonlight actually lit up the night in a way I had never experienced before.

From departure onwards, we lingered at the Lido as this hosted the only major onboard event during the cruise that was related to the local culture of the countries we visited: a Turkish Bazaar. Now I expected this to be just local souvenirs being sold onboard at exorbitant prices – and I was not entirely wrong – but to correspond with the Bazaar, the normal run-of-the-mill pop music played at the Lido was replaced by local Turkish music.

The Lido – or at least a part of it – morphed in to a Turkish Bazaar. A less noisy, more pleasant version with no haggling or pushy salesmen.

The rather fantastic experience was topped off by the Lido buffet serving local cuisine. Officially this was listed in the programme as a “Flavours of the Mediterranean” buffet and the space was decorated in colours of the Italian flag, but the food served was Turkish and Greek, with kebabs, couscous, falafels and the like. In other words, exactly what I had hoped this cruise would offer.

In the end I think we spent most on the evening at the Lido, listening to the Turkish music and just enjoying ourselves. We did leave, briefly, to watch the day’s show at the Showroom at Sea, with the visual comedy Yacov Noy. Now if you have not heard of Yacov Noy, I cannot blame you as, according to the man himself, he has been showbiz for thirty years and yet no-one knows who he is (even the internet is deafeningly silent). But the man was properly funny.

After Mr Noy it there was still time for enjoying more Turkish music at the lido, before heading for bed and the awaiting wonders of our last Turkish port of call tomorrow.

Previous parts of the report:

This report is originally published in MaritimeMatters.com.

Finnish version of this trip report is published in Finnish maritime magazine Ulkomatala.

About the author
Kalle Id is a Finnish maritime historian, photographer and journalist, with a Master’s Degree in history from the University of Helsinki. He is a regular contributor for Cruise Business Review and Ulkomatala. In addition, he has contributed to magazines such as Ships Monthly, MaritimeMatters.com, Ferry & Cruise, and Laiva. He is an author of two books on maritime history: Silja Line from De Samseglande to Tallink (Ferry Publications 2014) and Tallink – The First 25 Years (Ferry Publications 2015).


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