Selcuk: The Hidden Turkish Delight

Selcuk, a small town in the Selcuk district of the Izmir province in Turkey, next to the ancient ruins of Ephesus is often given the miss by travellers who prefer to make the city of Izmir their base to travel around the Aegean region.

Like most places in Turkey, this town is dotted with historical Roman and Byzantine ruins including aqueducts that tower over parts of the town. Despite it’s close proximity to major tourist sites, Selcuk maintains a charm that comes with the fact that it caters more for the townsfolk rather than tourists.

The journey by train from the Havalimani or Adnan Menderes airport near Izmir to Selcuk took just over an hour and it was reasonably priced at 6 Turkish Lira per person (about USD2). The trains were comfortable and the stations were easy to navigate with staff who were helpful. However, during peak hours, you may have to stand for a while as the trains can get quite packed.

(Website for train schedules and fares: http://www.seat61.com/Turkey2.htm)

The hour-long journey was dotted with colourful stops in small towns along the rail line that served mostly farming communities.

Views of farms, lemon, orange and olive groves, mountains and ruins of aqueducts along the way kept me awake and alert, despite the fact that I had just hopped off three flights – Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, Singapore to Istanbul and Istanbul to Izmir.

Stepping off the train, Terence and I loitered around the station for a bit, trying to get our bearings right and make sense of the map in our hand.

Most of the passengers who disembarked with us had left the station by then, except for a lady in a headscarf and her teenage daughter, both of whom observed us closely and whispered to each other as we tried to match the landmarks around us to the map.

A truck pulled up to pick up the duo, and a few minutes after they got in, the vehicle reversed to where we were standing.

A young man put his head out of the truck and asked: “Where are you going?”

We showed him the map and told him that we were heading to Barim Pension – a 250-year old Greek house, where we will be staying for three days.

barim-pension-2
Barim Pension

“Come in, I’ll send you,” he said, hopping out of the truck to help us load our bags into the back of the truck despite our hesitation. We were lost, so this was a blessing.

We got into the back of the cabin with the teenage girl that he introduced as his sister and the older woman as his mother.

The three of them then proceeded to look at the map I was holding and loudly discussed among themselves in Turkish where Barim Pension was.

As daunting as it was to be at the mercy of three locals who did not speak much English, we were appreciative of the fact that they were willing to give a lift to the two blur (how we Malaysians describe being clueless) foreigners stuck in the middle of nowhere.

“What’s your name,” Terence asked the man.

“Selcuk,” he replied. “Selcuk? Like the town?” I asked.

“Yes, like Selcuk – the town. I was born here,” he said as we pulled up in front of the pension.

We offered him some payment, but he refused and got back into the truck saying: “Enjoy your stay here!”

Selcuk (the person) personified our experience in Selcuk the town. The people here minded their own business but will attend to you at the drop of a hat if you are lost or in need of help. It’s hard to explain. In a nutshell: genuine hospitality without the fuss – in a quaint and colourful town where you can immerse yourself in the local culture and way of life.

Getting around:

The Metro/train station is located just across the road from the airport and is easy to access and navigate with helpful information centres. One of the better web sources for information are: http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Aegean/Izmir/transport/izmir-selcuk_train.html

http://www.seat61.com/Turkey2.htm

Once in Selcuk, the bus station that is located in the centre of town next to the market offers travellers the option of hopping onto public buses to explore the region or to arrange transport with tour companies. There are also private taxis and Uber available in town.

The train station is walking distance from the bus station and the centre of town.

Getting to the historical spots, beaches, towns and sights are easy via public buses, but do ensure that you have an option to return as we found that access to public buses from these places can be a bit tricky – and asking for directions can be daunting as communication in English can be a bit difficult.

So, if you are planning to visit a few spots, a hired car or taxi for the day might be a better option.

Just remember that you can visit the sites around Ephesus via horse carriage and taxi, but in Ephesus the only way through the archaeological site is on foot. There are no vehicles or transportation inside the large complex.

10 things to do in Selcuk:

  1. The ruins of Ephesus which was an ancient port city of the Roman Empire. Make sure you have water, sunscreen and a hat. Be prepared to spend at least half a day to explore the ruins that cover a large area. This includes an amphitheatre, a library, terrace houses, temples, public spaces, fountains, public latrines, brothels, sculptures, marble/cobble stone pathways and roads, frescoes etc.

 

2) The Ephesus archaeological museum that features findings at Ephesus, notably the statue from the temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

ephesus-museum
A variety of artifacts from Ephesus can be viewed at the archaeological museum in Selcuk

 

3) Meryemana (the Virgin Mary’s House) on Mt Koressos was discovered in the 19th Century based on the visions of a bedridden Roman Catholic nun Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich who lived and died in Germany. She has never been to this site. It is believed that St John had brought the Virgin Mary (the mother of Jesus Christ) to this house where she lived until her assumption to heaven.

 

4) The 6th Century Basilica/Church of St John which is in the middle of Selcuk, on the slopes of the Ayasuluk Hill gives visitors a view of the vast countryside and beautiful landscape and farms surrounding it. It houses the tomb of St John the apostle and was an important pilgrimage site in the middle ages.

 

5) Isa Bey Mosque which design is based on the Ommayad Mosque in Damascus is a prominent structure in Selcuk with impressive architecture.

Isa Bey mosque.jpg
Isa Bey Mosque

 

6) The Selcuk Market offers a wide array of products and fresh produce from farms around the area. A colourful collection of citrus fruits, food, a wide variety of olives and cheeses greets visitors to the market.

 

7) The Pamucak Beach on the Agean Sea is a quiet beach where local families come to enjoy a swim and picnic with the family.

selcuk-pamucak-beach
The Agean Sea
agean-sea-bridge
Bridge over a stream leading to the Pamucak beach.

 

8) Byzantine Aqueducts towers around parts of Selcuk near the public bath house and train station that used to transfer drinking water from Pranga to Byzantine settlement on Ayasuluk hill in Selcuk.

aquaducts.jpg
Aqueducts in Selcuk

 

9) Selcuk Public Bath house – experience a Turkish bath and massage like a local. It is open to both men and women.

hamam

 

10) Cave/Grotto of the Seven Sleepers located near the ruins of Ephesus where seven Christian youth are believed to have sought refuge in to escape persecution by Roman Emperor Trajan Decius around 250 AD. In the popular version of the legend, the emperor sealed the entrance to the cave and the youths were left sleeping in it till about 200 years later when a landowner opened the mouth of the cave to use it as a cattle pen. The sleepers awoke and found that their world had changed, and the influence of Christianity had grown in the Roman empire.

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