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!
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!