Vail Daily column: The heart of the Aegean Coast
April 13, 2013
Editor’s note: This is the sixth story in a series of installments from photographer Dennis Jones, who is traveling in the eastern Mediterranean.
I had tried to imagine Turkey’s southwest Aegean Coast; hundreds of miles of empty coastline with isolated beaches punctuated by rocky coves of crystalline, turquoise water surrounded by lush, Mediterranean vegetation and ancient archeological ruins.
I was not disappointed.
The city of Bodrum, the heart of this region, lies on the southern coast of its eponymous peninsula. With its well-sheltered harbor separated from a sandy-beached bay by an isthmus and the magnificent Bodrum castle, the city holds charms for both the well-heeled and the backpacker.
A glance at the harbor tells you unequivocally that there is some very serious money in Bodrum. Yacht after incredible yacht lines the castle-side quay, every one impeccably maintained. Their thick coats of varnish gleam in the generous sunlight.
As for the rest of the harbor, lesser, yet still expensive, yachts clutter the wharfs and quays with a forest of masts.
The eastern, bay side of the castle offers a crescent of sand lined with restaurants, shops, bars, discos and pensions. Everything a tourist could want is found in the maze of alleys behind the beach. More facilities are planned as the area is undergoing renovation.
A broad, pedestrian plaza fronts the bay’s eastern end. We spent several gorgeous evenings as the sun went down feasting lazily or sharing drinks at seaside restaurants and cafes.
Our real find, though, was the Manastir Hotel, situated on the eastern hillside above the town. At an amazing $61 a night, our room’s balcony had a breathtaking 180-degree view of the town, the Aegean and its many islands, including Grecian Kos, 15 miles away. Service was superb, the staff well trained and friendly; plus, they provided the best breakfast buffet we had in all of Turkey. Breakfast is an important meal to the Turks and always included with the room.
Bodrum is the main port from which sailing excursions depart. Day trips to multi-week adventures leave from here to explore the vast coastline of southwestern Turkey and its Aegean islands. The peninsula has become a mecca for Brits, Germans and Swedes escaping their northern climes.
This sad circumstance spawned a building boom that has flooded the picturesque coves around the peninsula with all too often ticky-tacky little boxes. Entire hillsides on the western end of the peninsula are awash with developments.
As with the rest of Turkey, history extends back thousands of years. Known to the Greeks as Halicarnassus, one of its most famous kings, Mausolus, built his eponymous mausoleum around 350 BCE. It was so beautiful and formidable an architectural masterwork that it was identified as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.” Its foundation and ruins are now a museum where one can gain a sense of its majesty and artistry.
When the Knights Hospitaller arrived in 1402, they used much of the earthquake ruined structure to construct their castle in the isthmus where Mausolus’s palace likely had stood. During the next 120 years, most of the mausoleum’s stones were used to fortify the castle while its many statues were ground up to produce lime for cement.
The castle fell to the Ottomans in 1522 and after several incarnations over the ensuing centuries, has now been turned into the premier underwater archeological museum in the world.
Despite some rain and cold weather, we’re glad to have been here in off-season. We had several gorgeous sunny days without crowds. Come spring and especially summer, the city is jammed. The disco and party scene goes until dawn.
We rented a car for a day to explore the peninsula. Driving along the coast on the at times sketchy roads offers one great ocean view after another. In all the small towns and nearly every cove, construction is either in full swing or recently completed. You have to wonder when the boom will collapse.
Still, we found much bucolic countryside with horses grazing in fields of wildflowers, little villages stuck in time and hills thick with evergreen forests.
If you are like most provincial Americans who possess a distorted and negative image of this extraordinary country, the beautiful, vivacious, modern city of Bodrum will disabuse you of your erroneous illusions.
Dennis Jones is a local professional photographer and writer. He and Yolanda Marshall are traveling in the eastern Mediterranean. To see more photos, visit his blog at: http://www.dream