Sea-nymph of the Aegean: DENİZLİ

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Sea-nymph of the Aegean: DENİZLİ

Charming city of Aegean, Denizli is a magic realm with its textiles, that exude an antique elegance. Its therapeutic travertine pools, its bird sanctuaries and 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 from 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 Muesum 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.

The antique-elegance
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 from terraces of tiny pools, floating high over Pamukkale in a glider is a unique experience. Çökelez, 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. 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 known 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 774 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 48 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 Atatürk 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, theatres, cafes and restaurants, is a popular hangout with Pamukkale University students. 

Worthy of Sultans   
It’s not difficult to find gift items at Denizli, which has become one of the 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 Inn on İstasyon Avenue, 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 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, brackish lake at Çardak, and Lake Süleymanlı near Buldan are suitable for botanical walks and bird watching the year round. I asked bird-watcher 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 me, 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, 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 water fall from a height of 30 meters, are east of Çivril. 

A town enamored of music
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 tambur, 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. This love of music is not confined to the city center either. The stringed gourds, 3-string bağlama’s 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?  

MELİH USLU 
Travel Writer, Managing Editor of FOOD and TRAVEL Turkey Magazine, 
Member of Grand Jury, Hürriyet Seyahat (Travel) Newspaper