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 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)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Xanthos, the greatest city of Lycia

Xanthos is another of those cities whose name has a magical sound to it. The city takes its name from the nearby river, now called the Eşen Çayi and lies less than ten kilometers away from its sister-city Letoon. Today both cities have been put on the list of the Unesco World Heritage sites, and that is not without reason of course.

Xanthos is most famously known for its Nereid Monument that has been nearly entirely moved to the British Museum by the not infamous Charles Fellows in the 19th century. This monument is a very large and most elaborate tomb created around 380 BC in a mix of Greek style and Lycian portraying. It could well have been commissioned  by the local dynast Arbinas and his family since his name has been found on several monuments in Xanthos and also in nearby Letoon. The Nereid Monument probably shows scenes from Arbinas’ life. Architecturally speaking, there is a close resemblance to the Temple of Nike and even to the Erechtheion on AthensAcropolis. The reconstruction at the British Museum gives a splendid view of the east side of the building and the sculptures that could not be inserted in their appropriate spots are arranged elsewhere in the room. This is one of the must-see pieces at this museum, especially considering that Alexander must have seen this monument when he conquered Xanthos in late 333 BBC. Today we only have the foundations to remember the location.

Alexander must also have known the bloody stories about the pride and strife for independence of Xanthos’ citizens, especially since the earliest recorded event dates from 545 BC. That year they were attacked by the Persians, but instead of accepting their defeat the men of Xanthos decided to retreat behind the walls of the acropolis and set fire not only to their goods but also to their wives and children, elderly and slaves. Then the men hurled themselves on the enemy and all perished. Only about 80 families that were absent from Xanthos at that time survived and slowly rebuilt the unfortunate city.

A very touching poem about this mass-suicide has been recovered during the excavations of Xanthos and this is how the translated text reads:

We made our houses graves                             And our graves are homes to us
Our houses burned down                                  And our graves were looted
We climbed to the summits                              We went deep into the earth
We were drenched in water                              They came and got us
They burned and destroyed us                          They plundered us
And we,                                                          For the sake of our mothers,
Our women,                                                    And for the sake of our dead,
And we,                                                          In the name of our honor,
And our freedom,                                            We, the people of this land,
Who sought mass suicide                                 We left a fire behind us,
Never to die out...

It is clear that this patriotism left deep scars on the people’s memory, and we can be assured that Alexander was not welcome here!

A major fire entirely destroyed the acropolis at some time between 475 and 470 BC, but it rose from its ashes once again and expanded rapidly. The gruesome suicidal episode was, however, repeated in 42 BC when Brutus attacked the city. Even he was shocked by the voluntary suicide of these people and went as far as to offer his soldiers a reward for every citizen they could save – only 150 people survived.

Today the hills around Xanthos are richly dotted with Lycian pillar-tombs and sarcophagi, a unique insight into this kind of architecture one cannot easily forget.

The best-known pillar-tomb is the eight-meters-high Harpy Tomb named after its decorating relief. It is a 5th century BC pillar holding a grave-chamber and crowned with marble slabs on all four sides. The Persian (Median) influence is rather obvious on these reliefs, because of the depiction of the ruler sitting on the throne. Another theory points towards Persephone as queen of the Underworld represented between Demeter and Persephone. Many of the figures are holding a pomegranate, a widely spread symbol of fertility used all over Asia Minor. At the corners of these 7.5 meter-high slabs are reliefs of harpies, mythological figures with the body of a bird and the head of a woman carrying the soul of the dead. The original panels are now on display at the British Museum but copies have been put in place at the site.

Next to the Harpy Tomb stands another pillar-tomb dated to the fourth or third century BC. This construction is pure Lycian, consisting of a pillar topped by three reverse steps supporting the sarcophagus. It is, in fact, a double tomb, one inside the pillar and one inside the sarcophagus.

Lycian sarcophagi are quite unique as the tombs are crowned with a roof shaped like the hull of a boat turned upside down. This top lid generally has two knobs on each side, often carved in the shape of a lion’s head, used to lift the lid when another family member had to be added. Some of these lids are enhanced with reliefs, as well as some of the side panels. The entire landscape around Xanthos is thrown with such sarcophagi. The many rock-tombs that share the setting have stone lintels holding up a stone imitation of wooden roofing. All the entrance doors are broken open - some of which are sliding – giving access to the burial chamber with three beds along the inside wall where the dead were laid to rest. It is quite exciting to stroll around and to take a closer look at the different shapes and sizes of tombs!

Another magnificent example is the richly decorated Payava or Lion’s Tomb from 360 BC that originally stood at the southeast corner of the city’s acropolis. It now can be admired at the British Museum together with other precious monuments from Xanthos.

The so-called Xanthian Obelisk is another remarkable monument. It dates from 450-400 BC and is, in fact, a tall pillar tomb covered with the longest Lycian inscription known to date. All four sides are covered by the 250 lines written in both Lycian and Greek. It must be said that at first glance the Lycian writing looks very Greek but upon closer examination it appears that some letters do not exist in the Greek alphabet. This inscription has helped in deciphering the Lycian language much like the Rosette stone, although not entirely. In any case, it has been determined that this monument was built to commemorate the victorious battles of Kherei, a Lycian prince. This eleven-meter-high obelisk once stood at the corner of the Agora which during the 2nd or 3rd century AD was replaced by a Roman Agora. Originally, the Obelisk rested on a two-stepped krepis and was crowned by a funerary chamber decorated with a relief on all four sides very much like the Harpy Tomb; this relief, in turn, was protected by upside-down steps and crowned by the statue of a prince seated on a throne in the shape of a lion. The tomb has been badly treated for the funerary chamber has been moved to the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

The abovementioned Harpy Tomb and Pillar Tomb were left untouched by the Romans when they expanded the underlying Hellenistic theater in the 2nd century AD. I find it rather significant that the Romans left these tombs intact – maybe some reverence for the dead, who knows. Except for a few top rows much of the theater, however, has survived. Access is still possible through one of the vaulted parados, as always a thrilling experience.

The Roman Decumanus has also been excavated, a wide paved marble street with colonnades on either side. Among them is a special column dedicated by Emperor Trajan in 100 AD carrying the inscription “father of fathers, emperor, ruler of Xanthos”, just to make sure he’d be remembered. The broad sidewalk is covered with mosaics, now hidden underneath a protective sheet. The crossing with the Cardo is marked by an archway of two bows instead of the usual three and here also the sidewalk in front of the shops whose facades are still visible is covered with mosaics. In the sixth century AD, these mosaics became the floor of the Byzantine Basilica. Another Basilica to the east of the Agora was built over an earlier Roman Temple, and several mosaics have been cleared for the visitor to see.

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