Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Arykanda 2 - Visiting the site

The Civic Agora that I reach first is in fact an Agora without shops around it dating from the 4th century AD. It is a wide and flat space, enclosed on three sides by what was once a wooden portico situated a few feet higher than the square itself. It may have been paved with mosaics but that is not certain. The old tree in the center of the Agora has a solid grip on the remains of a temple, supposedly dedicated to Tykhe.

From the wooden portico, a triple portal gave access to the Odeon that at a certain time doubled up as Bouleuterion. It dates from the 2nd century AD and still stands up to its roof. It must have been a very luxurious building when the walls, orchestra and seats were covered with colored marble.

The Terrace Bath a little further to the west proudly shows traces of colored plaster on its walls but I find it hard to figure out the Nympheion among all this rubble unless it is part of what I take for a cistern. Walking over bits of paved streets and ancient staircases my mind is playing tricks on me and it feels as if I am moving in a time before mine. It all looks so real!

I continue my climb to reach the Market Agora. Here a 137 m long Stoa runs along the northern edge, giving access to twelve shops that made perfect use of the difference in elevations. The pavement is rather simple, made of white flat leftover rubble it seems, efficiently put together. Three steps higher, at the end of the Stoa, I access the real Bouleuterion, cut into the rock. It must have entered into disuse after a destructive earthquake. The seats look very much worn down, so I suppose this construction was exposed to weather and winds for centuries. To the west are the remains of the Sebastaion, a sacred house that was later transformed into a private residence with an atrium. I can’t believe there is so much left and so much to see. It is like visiting a real city!

On a higher terrace behind the Market Agora stands the crepidoma of the Temple of Helios that looks as if it were built in the middle of a road, but this simply is the propylon leading to the Temple from either side. Unfortunately it is not known what this Hellenistic Temple looked like for the stones have been reused for the construction of a Roman grave. It is however atypical because the longer sides are amazingly the ones facing east/west. Archeologists have found two altars here, one carrying the Greek inscription ΗΛΙΟΥ and the other, late Roman-early Byzantine, depicting Helios with a halo. Statues of Asclepius and Hygeia confirm that the temple was shared with other gods. It still looks charming and impressive with its shiny white blocks framed in the young green grasses around it.

One level below this Market Agora I find an enormous Cistern with barrel vault and waterproof walls that apparently was used up till the 5th-6th century AD. It is said to have a capacity of 800 tons but I have no idea how this contributes to its size?

My path now takes me higher uphill, eastwards along dull rock tombs, nothing more than holes in the hillside. But then suddenly after a turn between the pine trees I catch my first glimpse of the Theatre. I stop in my tracks for this is magnificent, white and bright as if newly built. As I stare at this picture perfect Theater ideally nestled against the hill, I feel literally transported back in time! No wonder I entirely forgot my trail up to the Acropolis on the other side of the hill.

This Greek Theater was built some time between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD and counts twenty rows of seats starting right at the orchestra. At the edge of every row are holes that held the beams supporting the sunshade. Amazing! I try the stairs up and down, looking at the unique Lycian landscape and the obvious remains of the skene. I sit there for a while, enjoying the quietness of the place, and it is as if the spirits of the past come alive in a gentle murmur – only disturbed by the songs of the many birds. I picture Greeks and Romans sitting on these very benches talking to their neighbors about the events of the day or in simple anticipation of the play they are going to see. Time just does not exist in a place like this - very special indeed!

Right above this Theater lays the Stadium, built in the 1st century BC, in the shape of a running track. It is smaller than the normal standards, measuring 106 by 17 meters with only a few step-like seats on the north side still in place. The wall behind them somehow reminds me of a Doric temple façade with eight niches and belongs to an earlier construction. The Stadium underwent serious repairs after the earthquakes of 141 and 240 AD and, like the Theater, is in excellent condition. The view towards the sea is too hazy unfortunately but inland it feels like an eagle’s eye perspective.

Squeezed between the Stadium and the Theater are the remains of a Byzantine House, complete with mosaic floors and thick walls and apses that remind me of a Basilica. It is clear that each time period has left its own imprint in this city.

Tracing my way back to where I parked my car, I unexpectedly find myself in the Temple of Trajan or Sebastaion with niched walls (the back wall seems ready to topple over!). Blocks from this Temple have been reused in Byzantine times for the construction of the adjacent Basilica dated to late 5th or early 6th century AD based on the floor mosaics. The Basilica did not live long and was probably devastated by the earthquake of 560.

By now, it is nearly one o’clock and I surely can use a break after all this climbing. I’m so glad I took a walking stick with me for the hillside is steep and the scree makes any foothold highly insecure! There are two more cars parked next to mine now, and the guard in charge is checking the visitors, waiting for me to pay my entrance fee. He speaks English and of course, he wants to know where I’m from, where I’m staying and what I have seen so far. What time did you arrive at the site? Ten o’clock? Yes, I thought I saw you drive up (you’ll never pass by a Turkish house without being noticed!). His daughter is at the university in Cyprus, studying English language and she is his pride – rightfully so! He points at the folder I am carrying under my arm, my homework with all the information about the sites I plan to see. Can he have a look? His reaction is almost instantaneous: this is the map from the book! Of course, it is. I know what he means: the plan of Arykanda of which I made a copy from the book on Lycia (by Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu) to carry with me, instead of the heavy booklet. He has the book in his store, he says, hoping for a customer. Too bad for him for I already have it!

I grab my lunch and a fresh bottle of water from the car and settle in the shade of an old tree overlooking the Arykanda Valley. On a clear day, the Aegean should be visible from here. The ever present stray dog is getting lazy and settles in his corner, keeping one eye on me and my food, I suppose.

I’m glad getting a rest and slowly my energy is flowing back. Time to visit the eastern side of Arykanda. Excavations on this site started in the 1970’s and the archeologists accomplished miracles. Since the ruins have been hidden for the past two thousand years or so, the stones all look as fresh and pristine as on the day the buildings were erected. That is what makes this site so unique and very much alive too – not a dead city as we so often encounter!

Closest to my parking space are the Byzantine remains with mosaics under plastic roofs that I noticed upon arrival. They seem to belong to the Bishop's Palace with a large hall, probably used as a reception area, a separate household space, kitchens with amphorae for oil and grain and niches in the walls for oil lamps, and even a bathroom and toilets.

On the lowest terrace lays what is supposed to be the largest bath complex in Lycia, still virtually intact in its sequence of arches, converted into a Bath-Gymnasium probably after the earthquake of 141, and repaired again between the 3rd and 6th century AD, although the activities of this complex were gradually taken over by the nearby Small Bath. I am especially impressed by the bay-window of the Large Bath and I think this must have been the Solarium, but nothing much has been done here to clear the trees and undergrowth and I cannot really get in there either. Well, we have to leave something for future excavations too, right?

Further to the east there are many necropolises only partially dug out, if not simply left as they were found. But the beauties are alongside the avenue above the Bath Complex. Stately and sumptuous Temple Tombs are aligned here, vaulted or not, sheltering Lycian or simple rectangular sarcophagi, often carrying Greek inscriptions. They are all richly decorated and I feel exceptionally rewarded when facing the ornate carved doorway of a Roman Tomb that was described with much enthusiasm by Charles Fellows in the mid 1800’s. The winged figures on either side of a bust over the lintel are badly eroded but clearly visible. The chamber itself is 20 feet square and the five foot wide benches are still leaning against the three walls. The back wall is as he described, made in polygonal masonry but I could not find any trace of the painted plaster on the ceiling he mentioned.

Well, so much for Arykanda. Such a jewel and I’m terribly happy that I could take my time to visit it without being bothered by the hordes of tourists. I feel very fortunate indeed!


My plan today is Arykanda, renown as being the Delphi of Turkey and it turns out that this title is not exaggerated. I read that Arykanda overlooks a magnificent valley and that the view makes it one of the most spectacular sites in close competition with Ephesus and Pergamon. It goes without saying that it is one of my top priorities.

The smell of spiced herbs mingles with the sweet penetrating perfume of orange blossoms when I am leaving my hotel in the early morning. Traffic in Finike is busy with the Saturday market and the road works as I drive between houses and shops till the sign “Uçumlar, Güle, güle” waves me out. This turns out to be a last greeting from civilization as settlements suddenly become sparse. The road winds between steep green mountains richly covered with thick pine trees. I am all eyes for this is Alexander-country (at least for me!), a majestic and commanding landscape with high peaks crowned with snow. It is a little hazy, not exactly ideal for taking pictures but my memory will record all the details. The road is twisting and climbing ever higher. Here and there, I catch a glimpse of houses and rows of trees, squeezed between plastic greenhouses that grow smaller at each turn. What a land! The road is well maintained. This is not as obvious as it sounds for, although this is a centuries-old connection between Finike and Elmali, it has been improved only in the recent decennia – lucky me!

After the village of Arif, I see the brown signpost to Arykanda. Yet it is pointing to a high cliff in front of which the locals are setting up their orange stalls. What is this? According to the Sunflower guide “From Antalya to Demre”, I have to make a right turn to reach the Agora of the ancient site about one kilometer from here. I inspect the rocky wall in front of me but find no entrance road. I take another look at my detailed map and finally realize that the road is to my right, half behind me looking over my shoulder – a kind of hairpin turn. It is nothing more than a dirt path indeed and I pray that I’ll not meet a car or tractor coming from the opposite direction, but all goes well and I find the space to park. I am the only car and the only visitor and like the day before there is nobody to buy my ticket from. Well, my presence will be known soon enough, knowing the Turks …

I’m deeply impressed by what I see. Such a big city! It is so wonderfully well preserved and excavated - a real gem with many streets and staircases still intact, two Agoras, remains of temples and private Roman houses with mosaics, Basilicas, and cisterns. I feel like a kid in a toy store, I want to see it all at once! Where shall I start? I decide to climb uphill to the two Agoras and adjacent buildings, as at this time of day it is still cool. To my surprise, there is a billboard with a map of Arykanda and another one with a list of the buildings pointing me in the right direction. These buildings are numbered and referenced on the map and they match the copy of the map I took with me from Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu’s book on Lycia – well, no wonder for he is the archeologist responsible for these excavations!

The Lycian city of Ary-ka-wanda, “the place near the high rocks”, is known to be one of the oldest sites, where even coins from the 5th century BC have been found. My friend Alexander the Great has stopped here on his way from Milas to Phaselis, but if there is any hard proof to this story, I don’t know for I haven’t found one. After his death, the city was ruled by the Seleucids and afterwards by the Ptolemaic dynasty. It is said that the tension between Limyra and Arykanda, for whatever reason, prevented the influence of Ptolemy spreading further inland through the valley of Arykandos. In the 2nd century BC, Arykanda joined the Lycian League and starting from 43 AD the city belonged to the Roman province of Lycia and Pamphylia. It even survived Byzantine times, until the 9th century when the settlement moved to a new site south of the modern road. Luckily for us, the marble and limestone remains have been spared the lime-kilns as no large town was built in the neighborhood. Besides, much of the site has been covered by landslides, meaning that Arykanda's buildings were well hidden. This is why the excavated remains look so clean and almost new. Built upon five large terraces on a mountain slope, the city is quite unique. It was known for having the most pleasure and entertainment-loving (and debt-ridden) citizens. So when in 197 BC they supported Antiochus III in his fight against Ptolemy, it was not so much a political move, but mainly to get their creditors off their backs. Nothing’s new under the sun!

Time to start exploring the site! I’m curious what the plastic roofs next to the parking are sheltering and I see that there are mosaic floors underneath that seem to belong to a Basilica. Yet I leave this side of the city for later and set off to higher grounds.

[read further in Arykanda 2 - Visiting the Site]
[Click here to view all the pictures of Arykanda]

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Limyra, from Finike

My first trip is to Limyra located very close by, in fact right behind my hotel (I later spot it with my binoculars from the balcony) although I have to drive in a wide loop to get there. First down the coast to Finike where the market is wrapping up. I have to pay attention, driving through the crowd of well built young men carrying empty crates and the belated housewives loaded with plastic bags full of bread and vegetables. Maneuvering further between the potholes and sooner than expected, I see the Roman-Byzantine city wall on my right-hand side that I recognize as pertaining to Limyra. There is space to park my car but nobody to welcome me. The kiosk at the entrance is deserted and the iron gate is locked. Knowing that the visit to the Theater on the other side of the road is free of charge, I decide to start over there.

Basically, this is a Hellenistic Theater that was rebuilt after the earthquake in 141 AD, thanks to the contributions of Opramoas of Rhodiapolis at a time when the city at its wealthiest and could seat 8,000 people. It was enlarged during the reign of Emperor Augustus and again in later Roman times, and in the 2nd century AD a skene was added. Although the Theater is squeezed between the road, the hillside and the surrounding greenhouses, it is still in rather good condition with niches in the side walls that once held statues while the diazoma and the vaulted galleries offer lovely pictures of the blossoming mimosa trees on the slopes behind it. High up this hill, according to my books, I should find the remains of the Acropolis with a church and the Heroon of Pericles from which a caryatid was taken to the Museum in Antalya. I have second thoughts about climbing up there for the hill is very steep (my book states 40-45 degrees!) and the hot air emanating from the many greenhouses make me feel nauseated. Besides there will not be much to see for even down here the landscape is very hazy. I decide to stick to lower grounds.

Walking back to the car I see that the ticket booth is now manned. The local voiceless messenger has worked well, as usual. I’m welcomed with a big smile and after paying my entrance fee, the attendant unlocks the gate for me. Great, I have Limyra all to myself!

Limyra, the Lycian Zemuri, is mentioned by Strabo, Ptolemy, and several Latin authors and seems to date back to the 6th century BC. Under the Lycian King Pericles, the Persian satrap whose name is found on coins from the 4th century BC, Limyra enjoyed a golden age. This Pericles had so much self-confidence that he was the second person in the world to put his face on coins, a privilege reserved for the gods alone. In Hellenistic times, Limyra belonged to Egypt, until it was briefly conquered by the Syrians. Immediately afterward Pergamon prevailed and finally in the 1st century AD Rome took over. The main god was Zeus, in whose name athletic contests were organized. The Limyros Valley was also home to the Spring Oracle of Limyra: trout predicted the future. If they hurled themselves at the bait, the omens were good; if they circled it skeptically … In Byzantine times, it was a bishop’s seat but the city waned under constant Arab raids in the 8th century and the silting up of the Limyros River. Later it came under the rule of the Ottomans, and the inhabitants settled in Phoinikos, today’s Finike, once Limyra’s port.

I take my map out, trying to find my bearings for according to my preparative reading the entrance to the site should be further down the road. It soon is clear that I am in what is the called the western island (the Limyros River cuts the site in two halves) and that the mass of stones in front of me is the Ptolemaion. The crepidoma and its podium is cut in two by a thick Byzantine Wall and surrounded on all sides by clear spring water. Archaeologists suspect that the Ptolemaion carried a Tholos with lion statues at the corners, supported by Ionic columns that may have been alternating with statues like the Nereid’s Monument in Xanthos. It is uncertain if this Temple was dedicated to Arsinoe or Berenike, but we do know that the metopes show scenes of centauromachy in a more elaborate style than those found on the Altar of Zeus in Pergamon – and that shows how wealthy the city was in its heydays! It must have been quite something and it keeps amazing me how we are able to draw so much information from a heap of rubble!

To the right, still impressive in its nakedness, stands the Monumental Tomb built for Gaius Caesar who died here on February 21, 4 AD, after returning from a campaign in Syria. The original monument was no less than eighteen meters high and decorated with reliefs depicting the great deeds Gaius performed in the East. The cenotaph (his remains were shipped back to Rome) was covered with a pyramidal roof. When I was in Antalya last year, I saw a picture of this monument in the Museum together with a reconstruction and at that time it reminded me of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Strange how things fall into place, isn’t it? Today this monument also stands with its feet in the water since the level has risen since antiquity.

Closer to the City Wall I passed earlier are other remains of a monument but without any explanation and I couldn’t find out what it was about. Somebody can tell me?

I walk back to the Ptolemaion, through the poor remains of the Triumphal Arch now part of the Byzantine City Wall, reaching the southern side where a colonnaded avenue paved with rectangular blocks in still visible under water. This is the Limyros River (today’s Göksu) whose source lies just at the other side of this wall. With columns on both sides, this avenue must have looked very elegant, leading to the eastern side of Limyra. Close to the center of that eastern part, I find the ruins of a Roman Bath as well as those of an early Byzantine Church and the Byzantine Bishop’s Palace. Closer to the river, an effort has been made to reconstruct a huge volute with blocks showing a feather motive; maybe an attempt to imitate the roof of a tomb, I wonder?

It seems as if not much of the terrain has been really excavated yet but the remains are interesting, to say the least. On this early spring day, I simply enjoy the idyllic views where the Limyros River joins the Arykandos, today’s Aykιrιçay, where turtles and frogs swim and play in a paradise of their own. It is so wonderfully quiet and serene here, with nobody to disturb my peace.

Directly east and a little above the Theater is perhaps the only Lycian sarcophagus in ancient Limyra. I wonder if this is the very same one Charles Fellows got excited about. Back at the entrance booth, I ask the guardian, showing him Fellows’ drawing and surely enough that is it, the monumental Tomb of Xntabura (probably a relative of Pericles), a Lycian aristocrat who is depicted on the relief between two priests. I undertake several attempts to climb uphill but I hit shear rocks, private fences and beehives. Maybe from behind the Theater? Here I meet a Turkish family inspecting their hothouses with tomatoes and beans, and the elderly man is positive, there is no path to the tomb. Too bad. Had the weather not been that hot and stuffy I might have given it another try, but not now.

Interesting also are the many rock tombs around Limyra scattered over five different areas. They are mostly real rock graves dating from before the 4th century BC and it seems no other necropolis in any Lycian city is so strung out. There are supposedly more than four hundred tombs and I stick to the ones that are more readily accessible alongside the road to Kumluca, starting approximately two kilometers from the Theatre. Well I can’t access them so easily after all for the hillside is as steep as everywhere in Lycia, but I manage to have a closer look in and around a dozen of them. Quite worthwhile after all.

I check the time. If I leave right now, I still may catch a late lunch at my hotel. The very thought of food and a cooler place to rest is a tempting one. I manage and my meal tastes great, I was hungry after all!

After today’s emotions I feel tired and lazy, and decide to return to my room to grab a nap. Well, not exactly what I had I mind for slamming doors, yelling kids and screaming tractor motors wake me up time after time. Maybe I can catch the afternoon tea service with cookies and cakes? No such luck, they are just clearing the table when I get there. Well, I’ll settle for a rakı instead! Şerefe!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lycia, worth to be known

Lycia is located in southern Turkey, roughly the big bulge between Marmaris in the west and Antalya in the east. It is mostly a mountainous knob that is connected to the rest of Turkey by two valleys only, the Xanthos Valley in the west and the Finike Valley in the east. Even today roads are scarce and follow the same valleys. The main east-west traffic follows the coastal road between Fethiye and Antalya, which is constantly improved but still a lengthy affair – although it offers spectacular views!

To me this is a true shrine of snowy mountain tops, deep gorges and a wealth of archeological sites with an unsurpassed rich history, going way back in time.

The Lycians were referred to as the Luwian people in early eastern and Egyptian inscriptions, i.e. the Luqqu or Luqqa from the 2nd millennium BC. Lycia’s main source of income came from its forests but also from trade with the ships that navigated along its coastline. Neighboring kings from Caria and Lydia tried but failed to conquer Lycia, until the Persians under the Achaemenids managed to impose themselves. Persian rule was fierce and ruthless and Xanthos resisted heavily, preferring even mass suicide rather than submission to the enemy.

The occupation took a different turn when Mausolos, the King and satrap of Caria took over, forming a kind of buffer between the Persians and the Lycians. In the 4th century BC, a certain Pericles tried to unite all Lycian cities under one central rule, without success. It was Alexander the Great who put a final end to the Persian occupation; at the same time, he also stopped the use of the Lycian language in favor of Greek. After Alexander’s premature death and the fight of his successors over the territories he conquered, Lycia came under the rule of the Egyptian Ptolemaics in 310 BC, and in 301 BC it was ruled by Lysimachus, King of Syria. But this kingdom would not live long enough either and finally, by the beginning of the 2nd century, BC Lycia came under the control of Rhodes with the influence of Rome.

Yet Rhodes did not give the Lycians a fair treatment and after many complaints, Rome found it reasonable to grant them their freedom. At this point, the Lycian cities all agreed it was time to unite and the Lycian League, as dreamed of by Pericles, became reality. The six main cities: Xanthos, Pınara, Tlos, Patara, Myra, and Olympos were the administrative, judicial, military, financial and religious centers and each received 3 votes in the meetings of the League. Most of the other cities had 1 vote each while some very small cities shared 1 vote (for instance Istlada, Apollonia, and Aperlai). Some cities and small federal states were allowed to mint their own coins, provided they bear the inscription ΛΥΚΙΩΝ ΚΟΙΝΩΝ. This must have been an enormous boost to the Lycians’ pride leading to their prosperity.

During the 1st century BC, Lycia with the rest of Anatolia became a Roman province, but this domination had its good side too for Rome had the power and the means to protect them against pirates, for instance. When their plundering of commercial ships and coastal cities went beyond limits, Manlius Vulso decided to go after them both by land and sea – and he was successful! The trade routes were open once again and the economy developed.

But then, in the wake of the murder of Julius Caesar, Brutus arrived in Lycia. Finding no support for his cause, he slaughtered the inhabitants of Xanthos (a repeat of what the Persians had done a few centuries before). A year later Marc Antony took over and luckily he decided to rebuild the cities, especially Xanthos. With the reign of Augustus peace returned, at last, reaching its heydays under Trajan and Hadrian.

Unfortunately in the year 141 AD, Anatolia including Lycia was hit by a severe earthquake, destroying many cities. Thanks to the contributions of rich citizens like Opramoas of Rhodiapolis, every single city between Phaselis in the east and Telmessus in the west was rebuilt and Lycia continued developing. But then it was hit again by a major earthquake on the 5th of August 240 AD and the cities were equally destroyed – yet no money seemed to have been available for their reconstruction and the entire region slowly fell into decline. By the 5th century the Byzantine Empire was crumbling down and soon afterward the Arabs invaded the territory.

Each and every site is worth discovering and visiting. One of the most thrilling experiences you can plan is to go out there by boat and explore this mysterious and unforgiving land from the sea. Personally, I have sailed this coast on board of the Almira with Peter Sommer Travels, and I can assure you that this experience will stay with you forever. Time truly comes to a standstill and I easily pictured how the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the merchants and the pirates, navigated along this coastline. It is no surprise either to hear that the oldest shipwreck (1350 BC) has been found near Uluburun, approximately in the middle of the bulge. The entire cargo has been rescued and is now on display at the Museum of Bodrum – a true revelation!

But not only the coastal cities and sites are worth a visit, Lycia has lots of hidden treasures off the beaten tracks of tourists and/or further inland. Although I have mentioned a few cities above and it is utterly impossible to draw an exhaustive list. Maybe I’ll add just a few names like Rhodiapolis, Limyra, Arykanda, Chimera, Phellos or Letoon

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Rhodiapolis, a well-kept secret

I stubbornly go hunting for the site of Rhodiapolis, not because the city is so important but I want to pay tribute to my friend Opramoas. He was the great benefactor who contributed lavishly to the reconstruction of most Lycian cities after the devastating earthquake of 141 AD. He must have been terribly wealthy for it seems that every single city mentions his name in thanks and I feel I owe it to him to take a look in his native city.

Well, this day could make a good story for a movie! From what I had read, I knew the place would be hard to find. I got a few hints that after Kumluca, I should look for Haciviler with some roadside cafés, but I saw none of this. Yet I was very determined to get to Rhodiapolis, even if I had to spend the entire day looking for it!

I start asking at a gas station where they tell me I have to turn left and then right at the next opportunity. It seems rather obvious that I should find it after that. Well not so. The road goes on and on in the gorgeous Lycian landscape but I have no indication whatsoever about my destination. I have the feeling this is too far anyway and I turn back. I stop to ask a family working in their fields as I see no road sign or any other clue. In spite of the fact that my Turkish is as good and their English I get the message that Rhodiapolis is just on the other side of the hill. I could either drive left or right but it seems still too complicated to give me clear directions. So I drive back to the mosque, where I have to make a left turn. I figure that if I try every single road going uphill on the left hand side I should wind up finding the one leading to Rhodiapolis sooner or later. I drive on, hugging the hill as closely as possible and I turn left at the first opportunity but to my surprise it ends in the front yard of a private farmhouse! OK, that’s that.

As I’m backing up to return to my road, a middle aged man, obviously the head of the house, steps outside and calls me in for tea. Well, after all I have been driving around for an hour or so and a cup of tea is always welcome. Besides, he might be able to give me further information. So I venture to the house – nearly forget to take off my shoes! Except for the red carpet, I’m being received like a princess. They put up a chair for me in the middle of the room, while the entire family gathers around on the benches along the walls. There are two brothers and their wives, the owner’s sister and her husband, their daughter and son in law, grandchildren, and even neighbors. I certainly am the event of the day! After all this is Sunday, what else can they do but enjoy talking to a foreigner. So here I am, sitting on that high throne with everybody’s eyes on me. I introduce myself and explain my search for Rhodiapolis. Right, a woman alone all the way from Belgium looking for ruins? Am I a teacher or an archeologist (sure, why not)? Do I have a map or pictures of what I want to see? Of course, I have done my homework. They are having a lively discussion over this material while I am sipping my tea, and in the end the pater familias decides that his son-in-law will take me to the site of Rhodiapolis. When I return, there will be a meal waiting for me. This is said in such a way that there is no room for discussion and I accept the guide and the meal with a happy big smile – honestly, I am very pleased to be taken care of. Wonderful!

So we drive off. I have to admit that even with directions in plain English I never could have found Rhodiapolis! There are several crossroads with four or five roads to choose from and there is no way I could have figured this out! When at last the first road sign is pointing uphill, I am already so close that there is no chance to miss the dirt road leading through the pine forest! This track is steep and when its turns into gravel I can feel my car losing its grip. Fiat is not such a good climber as I remember, and I gladly take advantage of the open space in front of a house still under construction to park it there. We are very close to the site anyway.
Lucky me. My guide climbs like a goat and takes me in his wake further to the top avoiding the many cisterns – pitfalls if you are not careful. This is lovely grassland where the bees are having a ball buzzing among the white and purple clover, the yellow snapdragon and the short stemmed marguerites. What a beautiful spot!

I am receiving a private tour that I’ll never forget! He brings me straight to the Theater, and one can easily see how most of this building has been buried for centuries. The pure white stones give the impression that the Theater was built recently while it was constructed between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. Of course, I climb all the way to the top row of seats noticing the specific decoration at each end of the benches, an oval knob enhanced with an x-shaped cross. Like in Arykanda and now that I know what to look for, I find the holes that held the beams supporting the sunshade. The skene looks rather damaged though with only four entrance gates in place amidst some rubble.

Right behind it lays the imposing Monument of Opramoas in all its glory! Entirely made of the same bright white stones, it is covered with inscriptions to the glory of Opramoas’ deeds (he certainly was not a modest man!). It seems that the archeologists have not figured out the original place of each and every block yet, so for now they are neatly piled up behind a fence. The pediment, on the contrary, has been pieced back together and stands on top of the Stoa wall of the lower terrace. For a while this Stoa was mistakenly called Agora because of the three steps on the side on this Stoa. I feel like meeting Opramoas in person, overlooking this gorgeous valley that runs all the way to the Aegean Sea. He must have seen what I see now, most probably on a clear day and definitely without the plastic greenhouses spoiling the serenity.

Passing a thick wall that may have been part of the aqueduct, I stare into the large Roman bath complex with its sturdy vaults on the lower terrace. It is hard to believe that these buildings were excavated for they are very much overgrown with trees and bushes and even from my vantage point it is hard to figure out what is what. I cannot see the floor even, although I suppose there must still be some mosaics there. I am impressed however by the many traces of paint on the walls, red seems to be favorite. A little further, I find large cisterns with their plastered walls, but here too I have to use my imagination in the lush vegetation.

Still walking in the footsteps of my guide, I suddenly see the apses of a Byzantine Basilica. I cannot see any walls or remains of columns, just the unmistakable curved apses. As we come nearer, I am amazed to find a rather deep square canal running right behind the apses, however still inside the Basilica! I look up and around and somehow figure out that this must be part of the aqueduct higher up the hill. Well, well!
The hillside is dotted with several rock graves and Lycian sarcophagi but I don’t investigate them any further. My main goal and indeed the climax of my visit is the Monument of Opramoas and I surely have seen that! How exciting!

We now drive back to the house where his pretty wife welcomes me with a handshake and a kiss with the usual “Hoş geldiniz”. Soon their two small children were all over me with their toys and schoolbooks which I am interested in (it would be great to learn Turkish this way!). Dinner is served in Turkish style, of course. The tablecloth that has a big hole in it is spread out on the carpeted floor in the middle of the room and we all gather around the big tray. Everybody pulls a corner of the sheet over his knees, and we dig in the goodies served with delicious Turkish bread and tea. It is a simple but very tasteful meal of cheese, cooked onions and broccoli, melted cheese and yekmek (it looks like tomato soup with lots of fresh peas, but they insist it is not soup). Well, I can assure you this is quite an experience for me. It is embarrassing that they don’t want to be paid for their service, not to mention their hospitality. Allah will reward them, they say. It goes without saying that I made up for their gracious welcome later on. Since I had taken pictures of the entire family earlier that day, I had a good excuse to ask for their address.

Useless to say that I am in heaven, for not only have I managed to find the site of Rhodiapolis today, but I enjoyed the entire experience around it! I’ve been singing for happiness, all the way back to the hotel.♫♪♪♪♫

For the latest update, please click here.

[Click here to view all the pictures of Rhodiapolis]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lycia by Prof. Dr. Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu.

Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu is an archaeologist. He started working in the early 1970’s with excavations in Xanthos and later in Arykanda and Phaselis. It is clear that he fell in love with Lycia, a bulge in southwestern Turkey and since I shared this love, I could not find anyone better than him to be my guide - in book form that is.

The English translation is not the easiest to read and certainly not the best, but the clear and lively descriptions of the sites, their history and the directions to get there largely compensate for that shortcoming. I had visited several sites while on guided tours but when I decided to drive around Lycia by myself, this guidebook turned out to be a most wonderful travel companion. It is richly enhanced with many photographs and detailed maps of the excavated cities, done in such a way that you immediately recognize the spot you arrive there.

My highlight so far is Arykanda, where Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu spent many years of his life and it did not come as a surprise when I saw his map on a big billboard at the entrance. The place looked familiar to me even before I had entered it!

His book starts with an introduction stating his passion for Lycia and the progress archeology has made over the years. Another chapter handles a very useful and comprehensive history of Lycia set against its geography for one needs to understand both to get the complete picture of that area. The front cover is folded in three and holds a summary map of Lycia where the ancient sites are marked in typical brown frames.

It goes without saying that I highly recommend this guide to anyone who wants to discover Lycia on his own or simply wants to know more about this beautiful region of Turkey. Just make sure that pages 280-288 are also translated into English for mine were inserted in Turkish by mistake.

From Antalya to Demre – Sunflower Guide

Travelling on my own and using Finike as my base camp to explore the surrounding area of southeastern Lycia, I basically relied on two books: Lycia by Prof. Dr. Cevdet Bayburtluoglu and the Sunflower Guide to the Turkish Coast, specifically the one covering Antalya to Demre. Both books turned out to be very useful, each in its own way.

I already discussed the Lycia Guide on a previous occasion, so this time, I want to focus on the Sunflower Guide that I also mentioned in my stories about the Finike area. This book is more of a walking guide providing useful hints about food and lodging, but also about the signs to look for to get where you want to go. The sightseeing is arranged around several walks: Antalya and the larger Antalya area, Kemer, Olympos, Finike, and Demre, with a beautiful fold-out map of Lycia attached to the back cover and clear detailed maps along the way.

Besides that, it contains an extensive introduction with all kinds of practical information, such as phone area codes, newspapers, buses, events, shopping, cafés, restaurants, nightlife, laundry services, police, entrance fees and opening hours of the archaeological sites and parks, you just name it. A comprehensive history of Turkey and a list of useful Turkish words make the guide complete.

The book is a high standard teamwork of Michael Bussman and Gabriele Troger, with walks by Brian and Eileen Anderson and Dean Livesley. The seasoned traveller can even check their online update service at to make sure he/she has the most recent information when planning a trip to Lycia.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The First Emperor, China’s Terracotta Army and Alexander the Great

After all I have heard, read and watched on TV, I definitely wanted to see this exceptional army of terracotta soldiers for myself. Since this exhibition has been announced many months ago and runs from September 2007 till April 2008, I thought I would have all the time in the world to plan a trip to London some time early this year. Nothing was less evident for it became very difficult to acquire a ticket. When I checked the Internet booking site in the first days of January it appeared that they were sold out for the entire duration of the exhibition! I just couldn’t believe it, being as flexible as I was, yet finding no ticket. I decided to phone the British Museum and hear what they could offer me. Well, it was my lucky day for I could book for Sunday at 10.10 a.m. This meant that I would have to get up at five in the morning but no sacrifice is too big when it comes to the arts, right?

As it turned out, the exhibition met my expectation, nothing less but nothing more either. I have to admit that the British Museum and the BBC did a good job when making the documentary about the history of the site and the preparations of the exhibition. Well done, as usual – very complete.  So, all in all, I am very happy to have seen the soldiers and the other artifacts with my own eyes and I warmly recommend this venue!

The First Emperor - BRITISH MUSEUM from newangle on Vimeo.

It is all about Ying Zheng, later to be called the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huangdi), who was born in 259 BC. When he was 13 years old he became king of Qin (pronounced Chin), one of the seven greater kingdoms that rivaled with each other in Eastern China. Thanks to his military strategy and sophisticated arms, he succeeded in conquering the other warring states, thus unifying China for the first time in 221 BC. When you consider that imperial China lasted until the fall of the Qing or Manchu Dynasty in 1912, you can understand the importance of this unification!

Now if you ask me, Qin ruled like a despot and a tyrant for he literally went over dead bodies to achieve his goals. Of course, he had to organize his new empire, but at what costs! 

Among his most impressive accomplishments were the many standardizations. He instated one language and one writing; one currency, a circular copper coin with a square hole in the middle (to the Chinese the earth was square and the sky was a circle above it); standard weights and measures; same axle length for all carts to match the ruts in the roads; etc. He built 6,000 km of roads, many irrigation canals and he erected a Great Wall on the northern frontier as a protection against outside invaders (nothing to do with the Great Wall we talk about today). He forged his people into units of five to ten families, who had a group responsibility for the wrongdoings of any individual within the unit. In short, human value was zero and one dead more or less did not matter. He ruled by what is called a legalist form of government that involved rewards and punishments to keep order. This was entirely the opposite of Confucius’ preaching (551-479 BC) that focused on human morality and good-doings. Qin allowed the burning of intellectual books and buried hundreds of Confucians alive - not the happiest of worlds to live in, if you ask me!

Qin Shi Huangdi drank from jade cups and ate from golden plates for he believed this would ensure him longevity (see the beakers and cups at the exhibition). This reminds me of the chinaware I saw at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and that has the color of jade; the Ottoman Sultans believed that jade would neutralize the poison in their food – now I know where they got the idea! Qin went as far drinking solutions containing mercury as well as other deadly brews in the hope to prolong his life; I guess he simply poisoned himself in the end. Ironically and in spite of his dear precautions, he died in 210 BC, at the rather young age of 49.

I have to admit that Qin has led a very busy life for beside all warfare and reforms, he exploited any manpower and resources he could in order to build his roads, walls and palaces. Wishing to find the same luxury in the afterlife, he spent thirty years building a lavish tomb near the capital Xian yang, modern Xi’an. This burial site is huge and covers an area of 56 square kilometers. The actual burial mount has been located in the very center, and in the wide space around it several pits are slowly being found and excavated. The first discovery was made in 1974 when a local farmer was digging a new well and found a terracotta head. Since then, three pits have exposed a total of 7,000 terracotta soldiers. It must be a magnificent and imposing view for those who visit the army in situ whereas we, at the exhibition, have to use our imagination when we are among their selected delegates. They are waiting for me at the far end of the exhibition tour.

The collection shows a variety of objects, ranging from drinking vessels and terracotta roof tiles to copper coins and bronze ceremonial bells. Striking are the units of weights and fluid containers, the kind of standardization I expected to have come along with our metric system.

Next to a kneeled archer who still shows traces of paint on his armor, there is
an interesting reconstruction of a crossbow and since all the wood has decayed over the years, a collection of arrowheads that originally were mounted on bamboo sticks that could easily be replaced when they broke, as well as a lance head and a chromed sword – fine examples of craftsmanship.

The huge bronze basins I discover in the spotlights remind me of those I saw at Vergina as part of the tomb belonging to Philip II of Macedon, although a good two hundred years older. Many bronze bells in their typical Asiatic shape are heavily decorated and show the wear and tear where they were hit to make them ring (a different sound according to the spot). Also on display are decorative bronze pole ends that once wrapped around the square wooden beams conceived in such a way that they simply clicked together, in fact a kind of prefab construction. Amazing for we like to believe that the prefab has made its appearance only last century.

The items are well presented and well labeled, especially for those who, like me, don’t want to take a talking pole. I always find this gadget distracting for it is like somebody talking in my ear all the time while I try to read the labels anyway. I concentrate better by just looking at the objects and registering the facts and figures at my own pace. But again, that is me. Most people prefer just listening rather than reading.

There are maps here and there to locate Qin’s early conquests and the expansion of his empire; there is a short slide show presenting the soldiers in full armor while the peasants and convicts are at work building the great wall; and there is a silent black and white projection of soldiers and horses on the inner circle of this library room converted especially for the exhibition.

After the rows of showcases with mainly bronze items, I am now approaching the piece de resistance, the terracotta soldiers and horses. I can’t wait to get closer but with the visiting crowd, it is best to stay in line and move along at the pace of the queue.

As a teaser it seems, they have set up a long display with clay figurines showing in miniature how the terracotta figures were made. This is an assembly line, nothing less. The clay arrived in lumps at the workshops where laborers and local craftsmen worked together to press it in their respective molds. The heads, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Once assembled the individual features such as facial expressions and hairdo were added. As each soldier shows his personal features, a connoisseur can tell for instance from which part of the country he is originating. Some have their hair tied in a knot, others have it braided or wear a kind of bonnet. Their dress also differs according to their role. So the charioteers have the most extensive harness reaching over their hands even, the cavalry wear a sleeveless protection, whereas the infantry and the archers wear a short skirted harness. The light infantry, the most mobile part of Qin’s army, did not carry any protection so they could move around faster (I think they were the most likely to be killed too, right?).

Each workshop was required to inscribe its name on the produced items in order to ensure quality control. After completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty. Quite an affair! These burial pits are now part of the Museum of Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an.

The terracotta figures are very much life-like and rather tall, certainly considering the average Chinese in those days. They vary in height according to their rank, the tallest being the generals measuring approximately 190 cm (more than 6 foot). These generals also wear a specific headdress in the shape of a bird’s tail and I even notice that their shoes show an upwards curve. 

A span of four horses is placed in front of a roughly reconstructed chariot with the driver and accompanying soldiers on their spots. Yet I cannot really figure out how these soldiers stood on the platform behind the charioteer, two on one side of the yoke and one behind the driver on the other side. It seems to me that the chariot does not match reality here.

It is hard to imagine these terracotta figures painted in bright colors. A lacquer finish was applied on their faces and outfits, and the real weapons they carried must have given them an extremely realistic look. Most of the weapons were stolen shortly after the army was set into place and their lavishly painted features have faded away. There are a few good examples on display that still show traces of paint and glaze. To make things clear, there is a copy of the one archer shown near the entrance that is being reproduced at the end of the room in full blast of colors. Quite shocking in a way, but very interesting! It is believed that the terracotta warriors were based on true people – well they look real enough and even more so when we imagine them in lifelike colors carrying their arches and swords! They speak of a workforce of 700,000 men to create this army for the afterlife alone. How many more must have suffered and died in Qin’s other building projects and wars, I wonder.

It should be stressed that the actual Tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi still lies under an earthen pyramid of 76 meters tall, covering nearly 350 square meters. It remains unopened as the archeologists and experts are not sure what they can expect and they are afraid they may destroy an important part of the treasures inside. According to their measurements and probes, they believe it contains a scale replica of the universe complete with gemmed ceilings representing the cosmos and flowing mercury representing the rivers and lakes. Pearls seem to ornate the ceiling of the tomb, in an effort to represent the stars, planets, etc. Recent scientific work has however shown high levels of mercury in the soil of Mount Lishan, as it is called today. Future technology may shed more light on this tomb one day.

Facing the terracotta army of soldiers, generals and charioteers in this exhibition space, stands a replica of a bronze travel carriage with four horses, whose original was too fragile to be moved. It is a reduced size model and an outstanding piece of art. The horses look very alert and it is strange how only two of them, i.e. the two middle ones are hooked to the yoke while the horses on the outside are simply attached with the bridles and reins. To avoid any possible collision the yoked horses have a cone attached to their side to keep the outside one at a safe distance. I’ve never see anything like this! As to the carriage itself, it has windows made of perforated bronze plates to let the breeze blow through it. The entrance door in the back stands ajar and I can see right through these so-called windows! I am marveling that such refinement existed already in antiquity!

Today’s Chinese are understandably proud of Qin Shi Huangdi’s achievements, considering him as one of the greatest military leaders in history, but I can’t help having my doubts. From the start of the exhibition I couldn’t help but comparing him to Alexander the Great who lived roughly one hundred years earlier. Why do I think that Alexander was so great, while I can’t find such merit in Emperor Qin’s conquests? Probably the more humane approach of Alexander although it has been said he could be merciless, at least he did not exploit the people he conquered, often leaving their own rulers and religions in place, unless they had betrayed his confidence. This cannot be said of Qin but it remains a fact that the cast system and hierarchy he initiated survived for more than two thousand years. By now we all know the story related in the movie “The Last Emperor” where the outdated style of government had to make way for 20th century practices. So yes, this was quite an achievement on the part of Qin.

I just wonder however what would have happened if he and Alexander the Great had met. Of course, this is an absurd and most speculative idea, for Qin was not even born at the time of Alexander’s death, but just imagine the huge impact this would have had on today’s world! Fascinating stuff!

So much for my impressions and my philosophy. For those living on the other side of the Atlantic, the good news is that some parallel exhibitions are running or will be soon:
The Midland Center for the Arts, Midland, Michigan, organizes an exhibition “1500 years of Ancient China” running from Jan 18 till April 13 2008.   
The Bowers Museum of the Arts, Santa Ana, Ca also is planning "Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of the First Emperor" starting May 18 till Oct 12, 2008.
After premiering at the Bowers Museum, this exhibition is scheduled to travel to the Houston Museum of Natural Science (May 18–September 25, 2009) and the National Geographic Society Museum (November 19, 2009–March 31, 2010).
[Photo Source: The British Museum]

[Pictures from Wikipedia, except map which is from History of Qi]