Playing Indiana Jones

The tiny village of Çavdarhisar, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, holds one of the most unvisited and underappreciated ruins in Turkey – the ancient city of Aizanoi (Αίζανοί). It was originally settled by the Phrygians and later conquered by the Greeks and Romans. You may not have heard of it, but it contains some structures that were unique in the ancient world.

Aizanoi is rarely on the tourist trail. Chances are you will have the entire site to yourself. When I visited, only one minibus full of German tourists pulled up to the temple for about ten minutes and left. They missed a lot.

I took a day trip to Çavdarhisar on a minibus from Kütahya. The ride took just over an hour. I was dropped off in the center of town and began the 15 minute walk to the ruins. Everything is very well signposted and the place is so small it’s impossible to get lost.

About five minutes into the walk, it started raining lightly, followed by a heavier, more steady rain, then an absolute downpour. The temperature dropped and the wind started blowing. This wasn’t going to be pretty. There were nothing but homes around so it would have been almost impossible to take shelter. Armed with my trusty waterproof jacket and ratty backpack, I decided to imitate one of my childhood heroes, Indiana Jones, and press on.

I imagined myself in a dense jungle, hacking away at thick vegetation and fighting off deadly venomous snakes and spiders as I stumbled upon the first part of the ruins – a 3rd century Roman bath and mosaic – in the center of the old part of the village. I know. Please bear with me and my imagination.

Roman bath at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Roman bath

The natives seemed restless as I encroached upon their sacred bath. I quickly leapt from the ruins and made my way to the Penkalas Bridge, which was built by the Romans. It was my only path to survival.

Penkalas Bridge at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Penkalas Bridge

Across the bridge was a path that led to a great temple, the Temple of Zeus. As I was being chased by the imaginary natives, a friendly native from a rival tribe (security guard) opened the gates to the temple grounds and let me inside. The temple’s construction began under Roman Emperor Domition and was completed around 125 with assistance from Hadrian and Marcus Apuleius Eurykles. I was able to walk around and into the temple to inspect it from all angles.

Temple of Zeus at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Temple of Zeus

On one side of the temple, there is a well-preserved bust of the goddess Cybele along with a yard full of columns and tombstones. On a corner to the southeast was a small theatre.

Cybele at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Cybele

Columns and tombstones at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Columns and tombstones

Theatre at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Theatre

The threat from the hostile imaginary natives had passed, but the tempest continued. I thanked the friendly native security guard and went on my way back into the jungle (without any trees). I soon came to another set of Roman baths, this time dating back to the 2nd century.

Roman bath at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Roman bath

By this time, the entire path had been flooded with piranha-infested puddles, my jeans and backpack were completely soaked, my shoes and socks saturated with water and caked in mud, but I had to get to another important part of the ruins – the stadium and theatre. Aizanoi has the only stadium and theatre combination in the entire ancient world. It was built around 160. At the entrance to the stadium, I found a wall with laurels and the names of champions inscribed in Greek.

Stadium at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Stadium

Stadium at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Stadium

I then began to walk into the stadium. The ground was sinking deep into the mud with every step, making it difficult to walk. Quicksand! I had fallen into a trap!

Stadium at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Stadium

I thought I was going to lose my shoes but I was able to find some semi-solid ground to walk on at the edges of the game field. When I made it to the end, I climbed up to the back wall of the stadium and peered out over the field. The stands were in shambles and pieces of the ruins were scattered in the field. I had managed to escape certain death from the booby traps set by the hostile natives.

Stadium at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Stadium

Behind the back wall of the stadium was the theatre. The stage was flooded and about half the stands were collapsed, but it was still an impressive sight to see. Unfortunately with the flooding, it wasn’t safe enough for me to make it across to climb the stands to the back of the theatre. You can see by the water on the picture that the rain was still coming down hard. I tried keeping my lens covered and dry at all times but it was impossible.

Theatre at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Theatre

Theatre at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Theatre

I returned to the road bordering the Temple of Zeus and turned inward to avoid the threat of the imaginary natives. I felt on this side of the river I would be safe. I crossed the bridge into a civilized area where I observed more imaginary natives trading goods around a circular building. This was a market, and it was built around 250. Prices for commodities, from the Price Edict of Diocletian in 301, are chipped into the walls in Latin. The Price Edict was an attempt to limit inflation and set maximum prices for goods and services.

Market at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Market

Price Edict of Diocletian at the market at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Price Edict of Diocletian

Next to the market is the base of a minaret of a mosque that collapsed in a 1970 earthquake (or was it the work of the hostile natives?).

Broken minaret in Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Broken minaret

The last section of the ruins I visited was a colonnaded street built around 400. Well-dressed imaginary friendly natives walked up and down the street, greeting each other and passing along imaginary news from other parts of the imaginary empire.

Colonnaded street at Aizanoi, Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Colonnaded street

Now that I had seen all of the ruins, I made my way back through the old part of Çavdarhisar and back to the bus station 15 minutes away while the rain continued to pour down.

Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Çavdarhisar

Çavdarhisar, Turkey

Çavdarhisar

At the bus station, I ran into a little problem – all of the buses passing through for the rest of the day were completely full and the few minibuses that go between Çavdarhisar and Kütahya were done for the day. I was told to wait and see if the next big bus could accommodate me. I took shelter inside to warm up and hopefully dry out a little, but neither happened. When the bus rolled up, I was given the attendant’s seat and rode shotgun next to the driver. I was lucky to get back to Kütahya that day.

My advice: When you get to Çavdarhisar, book your return bus ticket as soon as you arrive. Just make sure to give yourself a few hours at Aizanoi in case you encounter restless imaginary natives.

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