Saturday, May 26, 2012

Letoon and Xanthos

Narrow passageway
On our second day of sight-seeing with friends Chay, Katie and Jamie on S/V ESPRIT we first visited Letoon.  This involved driving an hour or so westward along the coastal main road.  At one point Chay noticed an unusual break in the mountainside and pulled over for a closer look.   
Gorgeous pocket beach accessed by steps from high road
The narrow separation in the solid stone was well over 100-feet high; at the bottom was evidence that at some time a tiny river must have exited to the sea through that break.  As we turned to look toward the sea we discovered the first real beach any of us has seen in quite a while.  Turkey and Greece have very few beaches; usually the shoreline is rocks and boulders down to the water's edge.  The rare beach is usually what we would call a pocket beach.  And this little pocket beach was gorgeous.  There was room to park maybe 5 or 6 cars beside the road; then steep wooden steps that switched back a couple of times to provide access to this beach.  Really, really nice.  

This appears new to me

Getting to Letoon involved narrow roads through tiny villages, most paved but not all.  It is out in the country; not situated by the sea.  Letoon was a religious center and is on the Unesco World Heritage List.  There was never any large group habitation in the area.  Letoon was just a site used for religious purposes, not as a city.  Letoon takes its name and importance from a large shrine to Leto.

Letoon--Temple to Leto
According to legend, Leto was loved by Zeus.  (Oh, I remember this!  I wrote about this legend last year describing our visit to ancient Delos in Greece.)   Zeus' wife Hera was angered by his love for Leto, and Hera commanded that Leto spend an eternity wandering from country to country.  According to local folklore, Leto spend much of this time in the region of Anatolia and she became the Lycian national diety.  Eventually Leto wandered to the island of Delos (near Mykonos), where she gave birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis.  The Federation of Lycian cities built this very impressive religious sanctuary to worship Leto -- hence the name Letoon.

Letoon--Entrance to the theater from the temple area
Archaeological finds date this site back to the late 6th century B.C. -- long before the Greeks arrived.  It is believed that this site was sacred to the earlier Lycian cult that worshiped a mother goddess called Eni Mahanahi.  Then came the Greek goddess Leto; then during Roman times the Emperor Hadrian founded an emperor worship cult at this site.  Christianity later replaced all former pagan beliefs and a church was built at this site in 5th century A.D. using stones from some of the old temples.   The site was totally abandoned from the 7th century A.D.

Floor mosaic in Temple of Apollo
The Greek part of the site consists of three temples standing side-by-side.  The temple on the left is dedicated to Apollo.  This temple has a floor mosaic showing a lyre, a floral center, and a bow and arrow.  This mosaic was in fantastic condition!  Metal was used to define the outline of each major shape component in the design.  None of the tiles are broken.  None of the tiles have shifted position.  
The real Letoon mosaic in museum in Fethiye
None of the tiles show evidence of fading.  Being ever skeptical, I found it very difficult to believe that this mosaic has not been restored; yet none of the tourist literature stated that it had been restored.  Supposedly, this was an original.  Nope; tain't so.   After digging through many websites I found a photo of the original and discovered that the original mosaic is now in a museum in Fethiye.

Note depth of silted landfill in center
The center temple was dedicated to Apollo's sister, Artemis.  There is little excavated and/or reconstructed of this temple.  It was a much smaller temple than the one dedicated to Apollo.  In fact, it would be easy to miss this temple altogether and think that it was part of the temple to Apollo.

Letoon--Jamie climbing & posing
The temple to Leto was by far the larger of the three.  Jamie climbed up on several of the pillars and stones in this temple.  Oh, to have the energy of a teenager again.  Katie pointed out some metal pieces still visible in the stone floor.  On a tour at another site in Turkey, their guide had explained how pieces 
Metal pieces held stones together
of metal would be inserted into one piece of stone used to join to another piece of stone.  The metal would be heated 
and expand and would create a tight join between the two pieces.  I do not understand how this process worked, but that was the explanation from the 'expert' guide.  One section of the floor had 7 large pieces of similarly shaped metal that had obviously been used in this manner during the construction of the temple to Leto.

The nymphaeum (ornamental fountain with statues) today is permanently covered with water about 2-feet deep.  It is inhabited by frogs.  Lots and lots of frogs.  The legend says that Leto and her twins came upon a group of shepherds.  The children were thirsty but the shepherds refused to allow them to drink from a spring located here.  Their refusal angered Leto and she turned the shepherds all into frogs.  Lesson:  be nice to Greek goddesses. 
Letoon--A shepherd

Would you feel safe walking
through 2,000 arched entryway

To the north of the temples and nymphaeum is a large Hellenistic theater.  Our Lonely Planet guide states that this theater is in excellent condition.  Not really.  We have seen theaters in much better condition (like the one in Myra).  Half of the ground area inside the theater has been excavated to the original ground level.  Another example of how much the land has filled in during the past 2,000 years.

Letoon--Looking from entryway into theater; Bill and Katie
There are also numerous sarcophagi scattered about the area, as well as the ruins of a basilica constructed in 6th century A.D.   This was no small church for its time.  It was roughly 45 meters long and 20 meters wide (about 148 feet long and 66 feet wide).  It is thought that there was a monastic community associated with the church.  Due to the large number of drinking vessels found during excavation, the chief excavator dubbed its members 'the Drunken Monks.'  
Letoon--Hellenistic theater at Letoon; Bill, Chay & Katie

Letoon is considered a double-site with Xanthos, which is located 4 kilometers northeast.   French archaeologists have been excavating Xanthos since 1950.  Xanthos also was a religious center; and this was our next destination.   (We saw no archaeological activity in either Letoon or Xanthos, although the French are supposedly still excavating at both locations.)  Xanthos was not only a religious center; it was also the administrative center.  

Xanthos--Roman theater; pedestal tombs at upper left
The people of Xanthos put up heroic resistance to the Persian armies in 545 B.C.  Finding themselves overwhelmed, the Lycians killed their wives and children, burned their homes and committed suicide.  Only 80 families survived the slaughter.

Xanthos--Katie schooling us 

Excavation have revealed that Xanthos was burned to the ground between 475-450 B.C.  A further disaster overtook Xanthos in 42 B.C. when the city was occupied by Brutus.  Refusing to surrender, the population fought to the death.  Finally Brutus was able to capture only 150 men and a handful of women.  

Xanthos -- pillar tombs near theater;
on right is Harpy Monument burial chamber
Under Roman sovereignty during the 2nd century A.D. Xanthos regained its former influence thanks to the contribution of wealthy Lycians.  Xanthos was a seat of a bishopric during the Byzantine era.  

The first thing one sees when arriving at Xanthos is a Roman arch beside today's entry road.  A tiny bit farther up that road one finds a large Roman theater.  The first row of seats is raise high from the ground area, indicating that gladiator games participated in this theater.  

Xanthos--Reproductions near top of Harpy Monument

Near the theater are several pillar tombs.  One of the pillar tombs is extremely unusual.  It is called the Harpy Monument.  This sarcophagus consists of one huge piece of hewn rock 8.87 meters high and shaped with 4 sides as a square.  Inside is a small burial chamber surrounded on all 4 sides by friezes and closed by a flat lid of stone.  The monument's reliefs were taken by Charles Fellows to the British Museum in 1874.  The reliefs seen today are clay copies of the original.  It is believed that the reliefs were offered as a gift to the sarcophagus owner and his wife by other members of the family.  Reliefs on the north and west sides depict creatures, half female and half bird, called sirens.  The sirens are carrying the souls of the dead (symbolized as babies) to heaven.

Xanthos--Roman theater;
rigged for gladiators
Just past the city gates is a plinth where the Nereid Monument once stood.  The original monument also is in the British Museum.  The partial replica monument in its place is a poor substitute.   Like many Mediterranean countries today (and Egypt), Turkey would like to have all the ancient artifacts returned from the British Museum.  These artifacts were basically looted by the British and their home countries would like these old things repatriated.

trench in agora floor
The agora is badly ruined on this site.  It is almost unidentifiable.  Had we not already visited so many old Roman ruins and become familiar with what an agora is supposed to look like, we would not have know what we were looking at.  A few things did stand out to us.  One was what appeared to be a shallow drainage trench that curved and cut sideways across the floor of the agora.  Chay thought this was new construction because the cuts in the stone were uniform along both sides of the trench.  But Bill and I thought this was original construction.  The flat edges along the top of the trench would have held marble cut to fit the trench edge, making the marble floor of the agora level and smooth.

Xanthos--Lycian cuneiform writing?

Another thing we noted at the agora were many, many excavated stones inscribed with Greek lettering.  The writing on one stone was definitely not Greek.  Wondered if it was Lycian cuneiform since the Lycian culture was so similar to the Hittite and this writing looked like samples of Hittite cuneiform that I have seen previously.

Xanthos--basilica mosaic floor (picture on sign)
Xanthos--basilica mosaic floor covered in pebbles to protect

The basilica also must be viewed with an active imagination to envision what it must have looked like.  A photograph on a sign showed the mosaic floors of the old basilica, so I took a photograph of that sign.  The day we visited the entire floor area was covered in sand and small pebbles.  I assume this was laid on in hopes of preserving the mosaic floors.

Xanthos--scattered sarcaphogi
From the basilica ruins we hiked off around the hillside.  Through the weeds and up the hillside we went......with silent prayers that there be no biting insects and that the walking paths would be visible.  Well, there were no biting insects; but the paths were difficult to locate and follow, if not non-existent. 

Xanthos--Judy checking out
one of many rock tombs

There are sarcophagi scattered all over the hillside.  Even a few rock tombs.  

Xanthos--inside the rock tomb
It was fun being allowed to walk around all this ancient stuff and touch whatever struck our whimsy.  The only problem was that I was wearing sandals that were slippery as ice.  The soles of my rubbery sandals have hardened in the salt air environment of living on a boat.  BTW, these shoes are only 4 months old.....way too new to be hardened in my opinion.  There were no real hiking paths around the hillside; it was just low-growing browned weeds that had been knocked down by the people walking ahead of us.  And those weeks were slick as could be!!!  I had a very difficult time completing this walk.  

Xanthos--the Lion Sarcaphogus (way out on hillside)

Jamie and Chay exploring
rock tombs at Xanthos

Eventually we found the Lion Sarcophagus.  Above it were several rock tombs.  All robbed, of course.  

Xanthos--on backside of the mountain; a long walk

The views of the distant mountains were pretty, but I had just about had all this fun I could stand for one day.  

Xanthos--Jamie and Chay at the necropolis (fortress)
at top of  the mountain

Chay, Katie and Jamie hiked up through the very badly ruined acropolis (fortress) at the top of the mountain.  I opted to follow a dirt path that wound around those ruins and up to the top.  Bill walked with me because it isn't wise to be out walking alone in the countryside (snakes, falls....things like that).  We ended up reaching the very top of the hill at exactly the same time as Chay, Katie and Jamie.

The views up there were great.  Provided us with a great view of the Roman theater far below.

Xanthos--looking down on theater from top of the hill

Finding our way down was a fool's task.  The others went ahead and I trailed slowly behind.....slipping and sliding my way through tromped down weeds and stones.  Bill noticed I was having difficulty and returned to help steady me on the slides.  Eventually we did reach bottom.  This is not something I would want to do again.  Next time I will wear sneakers with good gripping soles.

Xanthos--weed walking

We made one more quick walk around the theater grounds and jumped back in the car to find lunch in the nearby village.  After lunch we drove to Patara; but this blog posting is long enough already, so I will save that for another posting.

Thousands of hot houses here.
They grow a LOT of tomatoes
in this part of Turkey.
 I spent the greater part of an afternoon researching the origins and history of the Lycians.  The synopsis is that the Lycians came from the Lukka people, specifically from the Lukka that lived on Crete.  Below is a compilation of various tidbits of information about the Lycians.  This will be of interest only to history buffs:  

We know from Hittite cuneiforms that the nation of Lukka was like the Lycians.  The land of Lukka was conquered by the Hittites during the reign of King Suppililiuma in the mid-14th century B.C.  The Lukka fought against Egypt in the ranks of the Hittites during the Battle of Kadesh in 1284 B.C.  They possessed powerful sea and land forces by the second millennium B.C. and had already established an independent state.

Lukka’s were mentioned among Egyptian texts as sea raiders.  This association with Egypt placed the Lukka also in Lycia.  It was recorded by Heredotos that the Lycians originally came from Crete and for a time they called themselves the Termilae.  According to legend, when Lycus, son of Pandion the King of Athens, was expelled by his brother Aegus, he joined Sarpedon and they took the name ‘Lycians’ from Lycus.  Heredotos noted that the Lycian customs were partly Carian and partly Cretan, but one custom is unique to the Lycians – their lineage is not by the father, but from the mother’s side (matriarchal family). 

Homer mentioned the Lycians in ‘The Illiad’ and told that during the Trojan War, under the commanders Sarpedon and Glaukos, the Lycians battled heroically on the side of the Trojans against their enemies the Achaeans.

The Persian King Harpagos conquered Lycia in 545 B.C.  In 480 B.C. when the Persian King Xerxes assembled his huge force for the conquest of Greece, the Lycians contributed 50 ships to Xerces fleet.  Persian rule ended when the region fell to the Macedonian King Alexander the Great.  In 333 B.C. when Alexander crossed the Hellespoint and landed in Anatolia, he defeated the Persian forces in battle in the year 334 B.C. and gained control of Lycia.
In 309 B.C., after Alexander’s death, Lycia came under the power of his General Ptolemy, who had established himself as the King of Egypt.  Ptolemaic control continued for about a hundred years.  It was during this period that the Lycian language died out and was replaced by Greek.

In 197 B.C. Lycia was taken from Ptolemy by Antiochos III, the King of Syria.  He was shortly afterwards defeated by the Romans.  Lycia was given to the Rhodians in 189 B.C., who supported the Romans.  In 167 B.C. Rhodian rule ended and Lycians became free.

During the Roman civil wars of the first century B.C., the Lycians again had to suffer from the depredations of Brutus and Cassius.  (remember, Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.)
Upon the Lycians defeat at Phillipi in 43 B.C. by Anthony and Octavian, Anthony received the east as his share of the Roman world and confirmed the freedom of Lycia.  Even under the Roman Empire, the Lycian League continued to function.  During this period the country was prosperous.  Money was plentiful and huge fortunes could be obtained by private citizens.  Money was minted at Myra in Lycia (where we visited yesterday).

Each city averaged 5,000 people to contribute to Lycia’s total population of estimated 200,000 in the early 4th century A.D.  The boundary of Lycia was extended to the northwest to include the Carian city of Kaunos, which was still within Anatolia.  

In the Byzantine period, 4th – 7th centuries A.D., Christianity increased in the region and Christian buildings were constructed throughout the land.  In efforts to eliminate paganism, the new Christians destroyed many of the old buildings and statues.

There are 3 reasons that the Lycians have disappeared.  In the 8th century A.D. Lycia suffered attacks from southern tribes and vanished from history.  Earthquakes and disease are the other factors to their disappearance.  Today Lycia is famous for its majestic snow-capped mountains, sweeping down to the blue waters of the Mediterranean, and for its unique historic sites.

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