Antique Elegance: Denizli

Charming city of the Aegean, Denizli is a magic realm with its textiles that exude an antique elegance, its therapeutic travertine pools, its bird sanctuaries and its natural beauty that inspiresartists.

I was sure it had no match in all of Turkey. The thermal waters running over the ruins of columns at Hierapolis form an ancient spa, a miracle of nature, known as Cleopatra’s Pool, that transports those who take the waters back to pre-history. The therapeutic spring waters that bubble to the surface in this region were a source of life for Hierapolis, one of the most prominent health centers of antiquity. The city’s many public baths large and small served guests all day long, redounding to the city’s fame. And the large public bath in the heart of the city has become Hierapolis Museum today. We embark now on a journey of discovery following the waters that have blessed Denizli with a splendid civilization from ancient times right up to the present. 

Just a few minutes’ walk from Hierapolis, which welcomes over a million visitors a year, lies a geological wonder: Pamukkale. While it is prohibited to trespass the snow white travertines that form terraces of tiny pools, floating high over Pamukkale in a glider is a unique experience. Çökelez Dağı, a mountain at Pamukkale, which is poised to overtake Fethiye’s Babadağ with its extensive gliding opportunities, is at an ideal altitude for a flight. Another precaution that has been taken to preserve Pamukkale’s delicate travertines is that all the hotels have been moved to Karahayıt. The therapeutic waters that rise to the surface here at Karahayıt with its red travertines differ from the white waters of Pamukkale. They are red because they contain dozens of minerals and a high concentration of iron ions. Following the trail of the waters is a good way of getting to know Denizli and the Aegean mysteries it harbors. At the city center are two beautiful parks adorned with lakes, fountains and tiny waterfalls, the smaller one known as Çamlık, the larger as İncilipınar. The viewing castle in the city’s exclusive Çamlık district is a perfect spot for gazing down on Denizli from above. But to get to know the city well a few hours’ stroll is in order. Bayramyeri, its historic center, is a good place to start a tour. The Germiyanoğulları Hamam immediately adjacent to the Ethnography Museum is exactly 763 years old. A little further on, the Historic Market-in-the-Castle is an old-time bazaar where the traditional handicrafts are kept alive by coppersmiths, woodworking masters, jewelers and saddlers. If you happen to be there around noon, the aromas wafting up from the shops are sure to whet your appetite, and there’s no leaving without trying the roast lamb known as ‘Denizli kebab’ which is cooked for hours in special stone ovens. Hüseyin Manisalı, who for 37 years has been preparing this original kebab, served with a medley of vegetables atop of wedges of hot ‘pide’, attributes the flavor of the meat to its being cooked on the embers of the ‘sakız’ tree (Liquidambar orientalis). Palm-lined Ataturk Boulevard with its department stores and shopping centers is abuzz the livelong day. And the area around Çınar (Plane Tree) Square, chock full of cinemas, theaters, cafes and restaurants, is a popular hangout with Pamukkale University students.

It’s not difficult to find gift items at Denizli, which has become one of Turkey’s leading centers for textile manufacturing in recent years. Handkerchiefs embroidered with roosters, Buldan cloth, Tavas embroidery and lace, and colorful printed fabrics can be found by the thousands in Babadağlılar Han on İstasyon Cadde, one of the city’s unique venues. But if you are not satisfied with the variety offered by this ten-story ‘han’, then make a stop at Buldan itself, of textile fame, whose fine hand-woven fabrics, made on wooden looms, were used to fashion garments for pashas and sultans in the Ottoman period.  You will feel you have gone back in time as you stroll among Buldan’s quintessentially Anatolian houses. Another Denizli icon is the rooster. Officially registered as a cultural asset in 2004, the Denizli rooster is famous for its vivid feathers and long-winded crowing. Mustafa Ünal, an agricultural engineer who is responsible for the preservation of the Denizli rooster, describes how it can crow without interruption for up to 25-30 seconds. But the rooster is not the only bird to see in Denizli, whose wetlands, which boast excellent observation points, provide a refuge for over 250 species. Lake Işıklı at Çivril, Acı Göl, a brackish lake at Çardak, and Lake Süleymanlı near Buldan are suitable for botanical walks and bird watching the year round. We ask birder and Denizli Photographers Club member Ümit Özgür about the region’s biological diversity. Besides such rare species as the imperial eagle, black vulture, great falcon, great bustard and barn owl, he tells us, a significant number of other species such as the Krüper’s nuthatch, white-throated robin, Cretzschmar’s bunting and Rüppell’s warbler also inhabit the Denizli region. There is a national park as well, famous for its rich variety of animal species. And Honaz Dağı, a mountain and natural area which at 2,528 meters is the highest point of the Aegean region, has also hosted the World Air Games. Meanwhile the waterfalls at Denizli will please nature buffs: Güney (South) Falls, an official natural monument, are 8 km from the town of the same name, while Gümüşsu, where the waters fall from a height of 30 meters, are east of Çivril.

Painter İbrahim Çallı, and musicians Selahaddin Pınar, Özay Gönlüm, Hayri Dağ, Mehmet Şakır (Akkulak) and Sezen Aksu are just a few famous Turks who were born in Denizli. A barometer of this city’s passion for music is the keen interest shown in the concerts organized in memory of Özay Gönlüm, who made his reputation playing his own version of the traditional string ‘saz’, which he called the ‘yarende’, a composite of three folk instruments, the tanbur, bağlama and cura. The radio stations, houses of music and musical instrument shops in the city center and the vast array of musical societies and clubs also attest to the locals’ love of music, as do the musical organizations of Pamukkale University, which add further diversity to the picture. Recognizing the city’s fondness for music, Denizli Municipality converted the old flour factory into a conservatory. The musical tradition here, all the way from Karacaoğlan folk songs to ‘zeybek’ folk dances, is moving into the future now in the hands of the city’s young people. One promising Denizli group is ‘Pul’, whose guitarist, Onur Çelik, says that the city’s potential for music is even greater than meets the eye. This love of music is not confined to the city center either. The stringed gourds, 3-string ‘bağlama’s and and pine wood flutes sold at the local market set up on Saturdays in the outlying town of Çameli attest to an interest in music in the rural areas as well. Judging by music archives, there has been a tradition of polyphonic music in the Denizli highlands from way back. Hasan Yıldırım is one of the most recent representatives of the highland musicians who have performed at village weddings since the early 19th century. Somewhat idiosyncratically, he plays the violin on three strings, two of the normal thin strings and one thicker, silver-wrapped one.  Sea-nymph of the Aegean, Denizli down the centuries has been known for its friendly people and their beautiful music. And is not the rippling sound of the therapeutic springs that bestowed a magnificent civilization on the city a melody in its own right?

Known as the Forty Giants, our forefathers have played at festivals to the south of Denizli since time immemorial. I’m 77. I learned to play the pine wood flute as a shepherd boy in the highlands. We have certain songs that we sing while playing. Songs about being a shepherd and living in the highlands. Twenty years ago some musicologists came from France. They compiled a book about me. Later another 11-member team came from Europe. They made a documentary about me (Derriére la Forêt), which was shown in various parts of Europe. In 2008 they gave also me a title (UNESCO Living Human Treasure and Cultural Heritage Bearer).

ACCOMMODATION ALTERNATIVES: Everything from village bed&breakfasts to five-star hotels is available.
HONAZ CHERRIES: Besides kebab, Denizli is famous for its Tavas ‘pide’, its Serinhisar ‘leblebi’ (roasted chickpeas) and its Honaz cherries.
JEEP SAFARIS: Three areas are suitable for jeep safaris: Kefe Highland, Dağdere and Lake Kartal.
KELOĞLAN CAVE: The Kaklık and Keloğlan Caves fascinate with their millennia-old stalactites and stalagmites.
LINE FISHING: Lake Gökpınar and the Adıgüzel Dam reservoir are ideal for sport fishing with a line and hook.
NATURE WALKS: Akdağ Nature Park at Çivril is ideal for nature walk enthusiasts.
PHAETONS: The phaetons produced in the town of Sarayköy are in demand in Turkey and around the world.
RAFTING: The banks of the Dalaman River at Acıpayam and the rivers connecting to Güney Falls are ideal for this sport.
ST. PAUL’S WAY: Location of the ancient city of Laodiceia and one of the Seven Churches mentioned in the New Testament.
TOKALI CANYON: Famous for its wild nature, this canyon is also a good place for observing birds of prey.

Turkish Airlines flies from Istanbul to Denizli and back every day, morning and evening, and from Ankara daily except Sundays.