Friday 9 December 2016

Emphasis is to relax in ancient Ephesus

Sometimes holiday plans lying in ruins can be a good thing, finds Jody Corcoran in Turkey, as he eases from Wonders of the World to beauty pageants and baths

Published 31/07/2011 | 05:00

Roman ruins at Ephesus in Turkey
Roman ruins at Ephesus in Turkey

You see one ancient Roman ruin, they say, and you see them all -- which is bunkum, of course: if you are a fan, you will never fail to be impressed.

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With this in mind, I boarded a flight recently to, among other things, check out Ephesus, once an ancient Greek city, later a major Roman one, on the west coast of Turkey.

Among the other things was an opportunity to check out the glitzy new, all-inclusive, five-star resort Venosa Beach Resort & Spa in Altinkum-Didim, about 80km from Bodrum airport.

Bodrum is a charming port city in the south-western Aegean region, where we also spent a night aboard a yacht, with nothing to do but relax under the sun and stars, with lashings of fine food, drink and good company.

If you feel, perhaps, that you are under stress, then go to Bodrum and hire a boat. If you feel you need to be pampered, then go to the Venosa Beach Resort & Spa, which, as I have said, is all-inclusive.

Do not leave without the experience of a Turkish bath. It is quite an event in the hands of a professional. My professional was a young woman from Russia, as many of the staff seemed to be.

On a hungover Sunday morning, she had me undress to my shorts and lie face down, then up, upon a marble slab. She proceeded to massage, exfoliate, then rinse me down -- it took almost an hour -- before I was dispatched to a lounge area to have a face mask applied and to be plied with a sweet green tea. I shudder still at the agony and ecstasy of the whole thing.

There was a beauty pageant on and many of the contestants were also from Russia -- or from the former Soviet Union. The pageant was quite a surreal experience. The young women, some just 16, were on parade in what you might call various themes, all to the raucous approval of the audience and even the judges, mostly men dressed in their own particular style -- think Miami Vice circa 1985.

For example, other than the obligatory swimwear theme, there was a national-dress theme and, more curiously, a military-uniform theme: one of the girls, the only one to perform, was also quite a passable singer.

The Venosa is a monument to a new age. It has three a la carte as well as a large self-service restaurant, which serves a mind-boggling buffet selection for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each bedroom has a balcony overlooking the hotel's private beach.

The ancient city of Ephesus remains a monument to a different age. In the Roman period, it was for many years the second largest city of the Empire, ranking behind only Rome itself.

With a population of more than 250,000, for a time it was also the second largest city in the world.

Ephesus is famed for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There is what you might call a "speaker's corner", a marble plinth, in the shadow of the Temple, and it was from here that the man we now refer to as St Paul is said to have done his thing, before he was taken to Rome to be executed.

You may be more familiar with the letters he is said to have sent to the Ephesians, in one of which wives are urged to "submit" to their husbands, and husbands to love their wives "as Christ loved the Church".

That letter never fails to arouse a murmur when read aloud at the modern Roman Catholic Mass.

Just metres from speaker's corner, there is the opening of a tunnel, the entrance of which can be examined these days, but not used.

The tunnel was to provide cover to Ephesian men on their way to a brothel, next to the bath-house; their submissive wives, presumably, at home on the hills around the city. Ephesus is located just four miles from the House of the Virgin Mary, which is a Christian and Muslim shrine located on Mt Koressos.

It was to here that the Virgin Mary is said to have fled after the crucifixion, and where she lived out her days in a simple two-roomed house on a hill. It is a calm spot.

These various ruins and monuments are given huge prominence by the strong tourism industry in Turkey.

Bordered by eight countries, including Iran, Iraq and Syria, Turkey has managed to develop a tradition of secularism, thanks mainly to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first president, an army officer, revolutionary statesman and writer.

His portrait hangs everywhere, including on the wall in the room where that pageant was staged -- an imposing and fiercely charismatic figure.

He married once, in 1923 and divorced in 1925. He died in 1938 from cirrhosis of the liver due to heavy alcohol consumption.

It seems to me that Ataturk was a fascinating character, with a singular vision, but with many contradictions, not unlike the nation he had helped to found and which reveres him still.

There is more to Turkey, then, than immediately meets the eye; a pleasure to be found in looking beyond what may seem apparent.

GETTING THERE

Jody Corcoran travelled to Turkey with Wings Abroad Holidays, which works in conjunction with the Peninsula Tours Group, specialising in incoming and outgoing travel in Turkey. Venosa Beach Resort & Spa offers week-long packages, starting at €499 in May, €719 in September and October, €829 in June and €1,159 in peak season (July and August). Prices based on an individual sharing a double room, and include flights, transfers and one a la carte meal. www.venosa.com.tr

www.wingsabroad.ie

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