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 Dragiana/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 Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 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)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The surprise of Caunos - Caria 7

Caunos is one of those places that is always being advertised with the rock-hewn tombs high above a reed-filled Dalyan River crowded with day-trippers in flat boats of all sizes and shapes. Not the most inviting prospective as far as I’m concerned, but then, how can I judge the site to its right value if I haven’t seen it for myself? So, here I go!

Our gulet throws her anchor at some distance from the shore and soon one of the riverboats steams up to take us all on board. The wind is pretty strong and as long as I was on the gulet Almira I didn’t feel what it meant, but on this flat riverboat, it is an entirely different story. Each curly wave hits the boat and at times, it is like being on a rollercoaster. However, as soon as we reach the mouth of the Dalyan River, the water surface is smoothing out and we make steady progress. The river is so calm that sky and clouds and reeds are reflected in pure mirror effects. How well-protected and inviting Caunos must have been to the sailors of antiquity!

This coastline is a protected site for the Carreta Carretas turtles that come here each year to lay their eggs. This turtle varies in size from one meter to one meter and a half and can reach the respectable age of seventy! But protected or not, a local fisherman is throwing in some crabs on a line and soon enough I see one of those wonderful turtles emerging! Quite a sensation, I must say! Our boat continues her course and the first city walls appear on top of a knobby mountain on my left, apparently a two miles long stretch. We stop at a jetty to walk over a nicely paved path towards Caunos and its walls grow bigger as we get closer. In the lush green of spring the place seems rather overgrown, but once at the heart of the old harbour, the overview becomes pretty clear. The lesser Acropolis on the left and the Eastern Acropolis with the city walls I saw from afar on the right are the harbour’s sentinels.

I’m standing at the very heart of the port where a lake revives the picture of the waterfront that has now silted up. Behind me, nearly over the entire length of the bay, runs a Stoa flanked at each end by a Nympheion and constituting the background to several rooms in front of which are the remains of several monuments erected in memory of important Caunians. To the far left of this Stoa and Agora lies a Basilica and at the far right a partially reconstructed Fountain House decorated with two columns at the entrance – a pleasure to the eye!

Sitting here in the peace of the afternoon, the floor of short-cut grass and scanty relics of columns and buildings come alive. It is not difficult to imagine the hustle and bustle of people coming and going, ships being loaded and unloaded, merchants talking feverishly with buyers and sellers while seafarers seek the distractions common to every port - temples, taverns, and brothels are the same all over the empire. Sacrifices to the local and foreign gods are being made to thank them for their safe arrival and to pray for a safe journey onward. It is surprising to hear ancient writers like Homer and Strabo telling us that Caunos was a notoriously unhealthy city to live in, observing the people’s greenish complexion. This was due to widespread malaria; a condition that was not known at the time but lasted till far into the 1970’s when the Turkish government launched a thorough campaign to eradicate malaria from this marshy area. In antiquity, the harbor came right to the city’s edge but has now receded some three miles back. In any case, I don’t see or hear any mosquito – thank Zeus! What once was the busy harbor is now a lake, but it is not difficult to see how easily its entrance could be closed off with a metal chain if needed.

Caunos was generally considered to be a Carian city, yet Herodotus himself has his doubts and concludes that it was neither Carian nor Lycian. This statement seems to be confirmed by an inscription found in the city center showing a number of characters that are not found in any other Carian text. In the 4th century BC, Caunos was under Persian control but King Mausolos eagerly put a Greek stamp on it. Statue-bases of him and his father, King Hecatomnos, have been found and it is generally accepted that he was responsible for building the long city walls.

It is a pity that I found no trace of Alexander’s presence here for he was in the area in 334 BC, besieging Halikarnassos and eventually putting Queen Ada back on the throne. After Alexander’s death, his successors entered a long dispute. In 313 BC his general Antigonus took hold of Caunos, but Ptolemy captured it for himself in 309 BC. Three years later, as Ptolemy was being defeated in Cyprus, Caunos returned to Antigonus and his son Demetrios-Poliorketes. That did not last either, and as early as 286 BC they had to surrender the city to Seleucos, another of Alexander’s generals, then King of Syria, and was later on handed over to Lysimachus. This is one of those messy situations that occurred during the Wars of the Diadochi that lasted for some forty years! Rhodes demanded its share but inevitably Caunos became part of the Roman province Asia in 129 BC. Yet the inhabitants were unhappy with this rule and requested to be a free city, which was granted some time between the end of the 1st century BC and the beginning of the 1st century AD. By then, Caunos was a fully Hellenized city and none of its inhabitants bore a Carian name.

This coincides with the first financial crisis due to the silting up of the harbor. In order to encourage foreign merchants to continue stopping at Caunos, the city granted a full remission of taxes, except on slaves who were highly prized, and on salt, which was known to be of the highest quality. An inscription confirms these measures, and also mentions the trade of resin imported from the pine forests in the hinterland used essentially in shipbuilding.

I now climb to the higher terrace from where the position of the harbor and today’s silting up is clearly visible. Here I find the strangest of buildings in the shape of a horseshoe dating from the 1st century BC, set inside a colonnade gallery in Doric style. The inner walls of poor masonry and the column drums still show traces of plaster. The outer circle is built in white marble carrying fluted columns. At the open side of this horseshoe of this construction, three steps lead to a semi-circular podium trimmed with a row of unfluted columns in the back. This sanctuary probably was dedicated to Zeus Soteros but the presence of a strange purple stone at the foot of these steps, in the middle of the inner circle seems to indicate that this was a sacred area as early as the 5th century BC. At first, this stone was a riddle for the archaeologists till they started digging. They discovered that this round altar stone stood directly on top of a huge limestone monolith that had been broken into two pieces. This monolith stands on the bedrock, some 6.5 meters below the present floor level. This was called a baetyl, a kind of pyramidal sacred stone which, when still intact would have stood 3.5 meters tall. The pyramid is, in fact, an abstract representation the god-king of Caunos, Basileus Caunios. This baetyl is the emblem of the city as found on coins of Caunos until the middle of the Classical Period. I simply can’t get enough of this place, it’s so unique!

There is still another terrace above this one, whose entrance is framed by an imposing doorway and where I find three main buildings. To the left are the rather poor remains of a massive Roman Bath (more excavations needed); next to it, a good recognizable Basilica with rounded apse and three distinctive aisles; and finally a smaller building that is either defined as a temple or as a library. And then there is another odd construction! The remains of a quarter-circle with two steps with carved lines running across its flooring. This may indicate that this stone was used as a reference layout by the architects of the city, a system that is known but that has never been recovered simply because it was always destroyed after the city was completed. Another enigma that needs to be solved! Caunos is definitely full of surprises.

And then I find myself right next to the theater entrance. It is always exciting to walk the stairs under the original vault – it takes me straight back in time. The theater is definitely Greek in shape but has been adapted by the Romans later on with an elevated skene behind the orchestra. It had a seating capacity of 5,000 people, not excessively large but as always the spectator had a sweeping view over the harbor, the Acropolis on both framing hills and the rest of the city.

I am so entirely taken by the unexpected surprises of Caunos with its highly intriguing buildings that I nearly forgot about the rock-tombs which everybody knows and everybody comes to see! I must admit that their shear location comes straight out of a fairytale. They are more or less lined up in two rows, the bottom row being simple square holes. The upper row is the most spectacular part where the facades of the so-called temple tombs are cut from the rock in the shape of a temple with columns and all. I don’t visit the inside but I’m told that they contain the usual three benches where the dead were disposed. Pottery found inside the tombs seems to date them to the 4th century BC. A spectacular view which reminds me of Petra in Jordan – although on a smaller scale.

By now it is time to return to the gulet and as our riverboat steams towards the open sea, I keep seeing the big knob with Caunos’ city walls till we have reached the open sea – it must have been a true beacon for any seafarer. The winds have picked up even more by now and this flatboat is certainly not the most comfortable way to ride the choppy waves. My admiration for the ancient skippers and pilots is rising once again. What a day!

Click on the Label Caria 2012 to read the full story.
[Click here to see all the pictures of Caunos]

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