Çavdarhisar is a Western Anatolian village of 2400 people, set in a kilometre-high plateau surrounded by mountains southwest of Kütahya. While this does not sound very promising, actually you'll have a very good reason for a visit to this place—the Roman city of Aizanoi, the ruins of which are scattered around and about the village.
Continually inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC, Aizanoi's name might have been derived from Azan, the grandson of Zeus and one of the legendary ancestors of Phrygians, the ancient native people of the region. (The myth says Azan was given birth by a nymph in a sacred cave upriver from Aizanoi, about 2 km away.) Having changed hands between the local kingdoms of Bithynia and Pergamon, Aizanoi was later incorporated into the Roman Empire more than a century before the birth of Christ. Prospered with the trade of grains and wool produced abundantly in the plateau, Aizanoi had its golden age in the 2nd century CE—all monumental buildings that can be seen today date back to this era.
Aizanoi had already lost much of its former grandeur and the temple its spiritual significance when a band of the Çavdar tribe of Tatars arrived in the 13th century. They immediately saw the military potential offered by the slightly higher ground on which the temple stands, though, and repurposed it as a base, thus providing the current name of the place—"the citadel of the Çavdar", as it translates in Turkish.
For much of the rest of the history, Aizanoi was all but forgotten except by the locals, until the early 19th century when pioneer European travellers traversed the region and noticed the still-standing temple (unlike many other Turkish archaeological sites, the columns and the walls of the Temple of Zeus had never had to be re-erected, as they never fell down in the first place). Later in the same century, the site was identified with Aizanoi, and the first excavations started in 1926, continuing intermittently up until today.
As with much of the Turkish countryside, Çavdarhisar undergoes depopulation (the current number of its inhabitants is half of what it was ten years ago) as the young people decide to take their chances elsewhere in the cities—don't be surprised if the average age of the passengers of the minibus that takes you to Çavdarhisar is no less than 60. The village seems to be slowly but steadily following the steps of Aizanoi, with the old houses crumbling, collapsing, returning to the earth. While you will find little, if any, entrepreneurship towards the travellers and will notice a general indifference towards the visitors as of now in Çavdarhisar, who knows, maybe it's tourism that will once more rejuvenate the place this time?
In winter, stay tuned to the weather forecast for the region as closely as possible, as the heavy snowfall sometimes leads the main highway connecting to Kütahya and elsewhere to shut for a couple days or more, which makes the isolation even more pronounced. It entirely depends on the year, though—it's very much possible that you may visit on a sunny, but unsurprisingly cold, winter day.
The most common way of getting to Çavdarhisar is via Kütahya. See the "get in" section of that article for approaching there from out of region.
The road from Kütahya will take you through a dramatic river canyon, a mountain pass or two, and then into the open plateau along its 57-km course.
By bus and minibus
The minibuses from Kütahya start from the new bus station of that city (some outdated guidebooks say that they depart from a stop separate from the main intercity bus station, but this is no longer the case), also stopping at the site of the old bus station on Atatürk Blv, and in front of the train station (cross the street for the minibuses bound for the correct direction), if that's your way of getting to Kütahya. Minibuses bound for both Çavdarhisar and Gediz are useful, and perhaps so are those bound for the towns of Simav and Emet (ask first to be sure). There is a service at least once every hour (there is certainly one for Gediz at 10:45, for example).
And then there are proper intercity buses connecting various points south with Kütahya, also stopping at Çavdarhisar. These are run by the companies Kütahyalılar and Buzlu (the websites of these companies don't have English support, and are fairly complicated to use for non-Turkish speakers, so better refer to this list from the website of the Kütahya bus station for the schedule of all outbound buses—any bus indicating Gediz, as well as Çavdarhisar itself, as a destination should be okay to take). According to a bus attendant, Kütahyalılar also has a through service direct from Eskişehir, but it's not certain when it departs.
Minibuses cost 6 TL, while the buses 7 TL. Travel duration isn't really an issue—if the minibuses take a little more than an hour to cover the route, buses finish the journey a little less than that, i.e., a gain of 10 minutes at most. However, buses are more comfortable, offering a larger leg-room and a less bumpy ride, and a free drink service on the way. Pick up what is more conveniently scheduled.
On both the buses and the minibuses an attendant will come over to collect the fare (in cash only) once the vehicle eases out of the city. Make sure the driver knows that you'll get off at Çavdarhisar ("chahv-DAHR-hee-sahr", though locals also call it shortly as Çavdır, "CHAHV-duhr") if you are in a connection that has its terminus further away from the village, as the newly-built highway bypasses Çavdarhisar about 3 km or so away. Get off at the junction right in the centre of Çavdarhisar, on one side of which you will see a road as signposted to Emet, Tavşanlı, Hisarcık, and Aizanoi–Zeus Tapınağı.
Upon returning to Kütahya, get back to the same junction (this time to the other side of the road in front of the building of Çavdarhisar Belediyesi—the town council), where buses and minibuses will stop for hailing passengers. It seems the services are quite frequent, at least there is a minibus passing at 13:45, and a closely following bus at about 13:55. Minibus services leaving Çavdarhisar at 15:00, 16:00, and 17:00 are reportedly available.
Çavdarhisar also has a bus station of itself (more like an empty lot, though) on the road to Kütahya, about 250 metres away from the aforementioned junction. However, there is really no reason to walk there, except perhaps to ask for the nearest departure if you have already made a lengthy wait by the road.
The highway D240 connects the village with the rest of the world. From Kütahya, take the main southbound highway (D650) signed as to the direction of Uşak and Antalya, and 5 km or so out of the city, you will arrive to the intersection of D240, signposted as to Çavdarhisar, Aizanoi, Gediz, and Simav (you can't really get lost, as there is an individual signpost showing the way to Aizanoi even on the central Vazo square of Kütahya).
Approaching from south, D240 connects to D300—the main highway out of Izmir to interior Anatolia—about 15 km west of Uşak.
The width and the surface quality of D240 vary, but are not very bad, although you will spot patches covering potholes here and there.
There are two gas stations near Çavdarhisar, one of a local chain just east of the village along the main road, and another, perhaps more reliable, one of better known Petrol Ofisi, out on the main highway to Kütahya.
The village consists of two separate (with a bit of fields in between) but nearby parts: the modern half built on what resembles a grid plan (perhaps after the 1970 earthquake that shook the region hard), where you will touch down first after getting off the bus/minibus, and, about a kilometre, or a 10-minute walk north of it, the older and much more atmospheric part, spanning both sides of the River Kocaçay, or ancient Penkalas, also containing the ruins that you've come here for. An occasional dolmuş may wait at the junction to take you to the old town and the ruins, but be ready to walk. (Minibuses from Kütahya to Emet reportedly may drop you off right in front of the temple.)
The paths leading to each individual ruin group in and around the village are marked by small yellow arrow-signs, providing information in Turkish, English, and German. The detailed route in the section below follows a path suggested by these signs.
See and Do
While the architecture buffs may find the two-storey half timbered/adobe—and slowly vanishing—village houses interesting, and the cultural enthusiasts might want to check out the old cemetery (on a hill just north of the temple, off the road leading away from the village) for the ancient, unwritten headstones that are slightly reminiscent of balbals in the Turkic homeland, your number one reason to be here is to see the ruins of Aizanoi, which arguably includes the best-preserved Temple of Zeus in the world, and certainly is the best representative of an ancient Roman city away from the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts in Turkey.
All in all the ruins consist of the baths, the market building, and the agora on the south side of the river, and the Temple of Zeus, another set of baths (larger from the other one), and a stadium/theatre complex on the north of the river, the sides of which are connected by two still extant (and, indeed used by the modern traffic) Roman stone bridges to each other.
The following paragraphs provide details on each of the sites, and suggest a route to follow between them which ensures that you don't miss any, and you don't have to walk the same path more than once unless necessary, drawing a loop through the village instead. The Governorship of Çavdarhisar has a website fully dedicated to Aizanoi; although its English text is rather shabby, it offers a schematic map that might be useful for visualizing the relative distance and direction from the sites to each other.
You will need one hour and a half to two hours for a leisurely walk between the sites and a look around. The wire mesh gate to the temple is clearly signed as Giriş Ücretlidir ("the admission is subject to a fee"—and this is the only site that it is not free of charge to sneak into), but it seems there is no one around to pay the admission in winter, and even if the gate is staffed, as with other remote and decidedly less travelled archaeological sites in Turkey, it should not cost any more than 3 or 5 TL tops.
Alright, so you have walked the paved road into the old part of the village. You will arrive at your first yellow sign, which points to right, saying "Roman bath". Walk into that alley, at some distance ahead, the road will split in a Y-junction (no sign here), take the left side, and a short distance away (though not immediately visible because of a single-storey building in front blocking the view), you will arrive at your first bit of Aizanoi—the baths. Here is a large area scattered by the foundation stones and some marble pieces; the interesting bit is enclosed in that sleazy cover. It will likely be locked when you arrived, and you may have to look around for the guard to have it opened. In case you were unsuccessful in this, have a peek into the floor mosaics from the iron-barred openings around the building.
Return to the paved road, and turn right. Immediately in front of you lies one of the two (out of the original four), the downriver one, of the still-existing stone bridges. Cross the bridge to the other side; at this point you should be seeing the top of the temple. Walking ahead will bring you to it.
Photographs don't really do justice in this regard, but the first feeling upon getting close to the Temple of Zeus is its immensity. It's positioning on a slightly higher hillock in a large, green meadow doesn't really help, either. Climb its stairs, walk between its grey, mossy columns, and have a look over the ornamental details. While the building itself—having withstood various earthquakes, wars, migrations, and changes in the spiritual atmosphere—is impressive and noteworthy, there is more than what meets the eye. Did you notice that (hopefully open—if not, look around for the guard!) iron bar gate at the front wall of the temple? Walk inside in, keep your vertigo under control (it's definitely worth it), and climb down those narrow and steep iron stairs. You are now in a totally different age, in a totally different spiritual sphere—you are now in the cold and gloomy sacred cell of Cybele, the mother earth goddess of Phrygians, whose cult later expanded all over Anatolia and the wider Roman world, from Mauritania in the west to Afghanistan in the east. With its only light source from a number of openings through its top, and water drips falling from all sorts of places on its ceiling, this wide, stone vaulted temple is the most atmospheric of all in Aizanoi. Likely much older than the temple above itself, the two shrines together represent a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts—a great example of contrasting forces coming into physical shapes. Zeus was a sky deity, represented by light (the word Zeus itself derived from a root word in the ancient Indo-European language meaning "the shine"), and the temple dedicated to him flamboyantly rising above the plateau, whereas the rituals to Cybele, associated with mountains, nature, and the earth in general, were conducted at night, in the hidden underground chamber. Zeus was a cultural import from the west, while Cybele was a native deity, only later exported to the wider world. And needless to say, Zeus was a he, and Cybele was a she.
When you are done in the sanctuary of Cybele, climb back the stairs to the ground. You are now in full knowledge of what that female bust on the ground, out in front of the temple—which is though to be attached to the apex once—represents. Walk along the line of artfully decorated Byzantine-age marble gravestones on one side of the meadow, and get back to the road. Walk left.
The temple marks the northernmost tip of modern settlement, so you will be now walking in the open fields. At the coming junction, turn right (yellow sign says "Roman bath", "Stadium", and "Theatre"). The first site on your way is the baths, covering a larger area than the first one you visited, and again a collection of foundation stones, some retaining stone walls, and a marble gate or two. Keep walking along the pretty path between the fields, bordered by low walls made of stones (taken from the now disappeared buildings of Aizanoi?) and a series of bushy trees. Here is the stadium/theatre complex, said to be the only one in the world that a Roman stadium and theatre building shared a common wall. The stone seatings of the stadium leans against a natural hillside, but the most interesting bit to see here is a wall which depicts the names of the champions together with wreaths of laurel branches—which symbolized victory back then—chipped on it, which is just to your right at the entrance of the site.
Walk back the same path that you came in, and you will come to a T-junction, past the temple. The signs pointing the road to right say "Round building", and "Colonnaded street". This road will bring you to the other Roman bridge (frankly, in a worse shape than the other, with its ugly modern railings and all), and, a few steps further at the other end of it, to a square with the ancient market building and the Ionic order columns of the agora (incorrectly signed as the colonnaded street throughout the local signs). This was the site of the village mosque until 1970 when it collapsed in the earthquake—thus leading to discovery of the ruins underneath by chance—and its solitary reminder still standing is the base of its minaret, now employed as the pole of the introductory sign for the market building. A round one with two columns in the middle, the market building was purportedly the earliest stock exchange in the world, and prices for the commodities, chipped on a wall in Latin, can still be seen ("a horse equals three slaves, and a slave equals two donkeys, which themselves are equal to 30,000 denarii"). The columns of the agora on the other edge of the square make for nice photograph shots.
Walk south from here, further away from the bridge, and take the first road between the village houses to left, which will bring you to the paved road that connects to the junction and the main Kütahya road.
Oh, and if you haven't filled your quota of seeing carved marble stones already, you might glance over those untidily lying about the front yard of the town council (belediye) building, on the far side of the junction on the main road, while waiting for your returning connection to Kütahya.
Buy, Eat, and Drink
There is a branch of Ziraat Bankası along the main road, right on the central junction, should you suddenly find yourself in the need of cash. Its ATM may or may not accept your foreign card, though, so it's best not to push your luck too far and arrive with a sufficient stack to cover your needs.
You will find absolutely no shops offering the usual tourist kitsch in Çavdarhisar (and the tiled earthenware of Kütahya is perhaps a better souvenir to take back home from the region than fridge magnets with a picture of the Temple of Zeus on).
On the two opposite corners of the junction, there are small stalls where you can buy bottled water, soft drinks, or pre-packaged snacks to munch on while looking around the ruins.
There is also a line of small eateries along the main road, on your left towards the direction of Kütahya, but they don't really exist for the tourist trade, but rather for the employees who does not have enough time to get to home for lunch. Expect typical Turkish "home food", such as rice and beans (pilav-kurufasulye) or kavurma (chunks of braised red meat), on the menu.
You really weren't in a small, remote Anatolian village to look for a bar, were you?
While daytripping from Kütahya (or even from Eskişehir further away—start early if you intend to also stroll around Kütahya a little bit) is perfectly feasible, and indeed popular, if for some reason you need to linger in Çavdarhisar, there is a single, brand new hotel.
- Anemon Hotel, Başar Ulusoy Sk 22 (along the main road towards Kütahya, next to the bus station, about 300 metres away from the junction), ☎ +90 274 351-22-88, fax: +90 274 351-22-89, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may be at a loss as to why this national hotel chain decided to invest so much for a waning village that is often visited for just a few hours, but this hotel located in a newly built elegant stone building is in business since 2010, anyway, offering LCD TVs, and free wi-fi in its rooms. Laundry service, and carpark are available. 90 TL/120 TL one/two person(s) half board.
If you intend to visit in winter or some other wet season, make sure you are equipped with sturdy footwear that you won't care much about, as both the paths between the sights, as well as the village alleys that link to them are muddy and full of shallow ponds.
There are cleanish toilettes (squat type, although signed as WC), free of charge, complete with liquid soap and running water in wooden building just opposite the gate of the temple, across the road.
There is a postoffice (PTT) on the main road slightly away from the central junction, towards the direction of Uşak (i.e., opposite the direction of Kütahya).
The area code for the village is 274, the same with Kütahya.
- Gediz — down the highway D240 towards southwest, Gediz is the first remarkable town after Çavdarhisar. Built on a grid plan after the 1970 earthquake, the more interesting part of Gediz lies 8 km prior to the newer part. Called Eskigediz ("Old Gediz"), in this town, you'll have the colourful two-storey houses typical of the region—the survivors of the earthquake and the following big fire that swept half the town, on the lost part of which now stand a park and a monument to the victims (more than a thousand).
- Simav — on a road branching off from D240 towards west, Simav offers thermal baths set in its landscape pierced by steamy geothermal wells, surrounded by mountains with pine forests.
- Uşak — close to the southern terminus of D240 is the city of Uşak, where you will find the Museum of Archaeology, the collection of which includes the famous Karun treasure, as well as connecting buses to Izmir.