Friday, May 25, 2012

Touristy things -- Demre, Myra and Ucagiz

Guess what these are.  Hint: they are 2,000 years old.  We've had fun exploring!

Kas Marina from hilltop
After a couple of nights in the Polemus anchorage at Kekova Roads we motored farther west to Kas Marina last Saturday.  Sunday afternoon our friends Chay, Katie and Jamie on S/V ESPRIT arrived.  We first met them sailing toward Cairns in Australia in 2009, and later reconnected for Christmas Day in Phuket 2010; then Sri Lanka, Cochin and Maldives in early 2011.  ESPRIT transported on the BBC Everest with the rest of us through the Somali pirates to Marmaris.  
Kas old harbor (no yachts allowed)
Greek island Kastellorizon
in background.  Close, huh?
They left ESPRIT in Marmaris and flew home to Las Vegas for a year. They returned and began cruising south/east along the coast of Turkey a month we are sailing (motoring) north/west.  We had hoped to eventually meet up.  Kas turned out to be the meeting point.  My how Jamie has grown!  At 15 he is taller than both mother and father and so much more mature than the 11-yr-old little boy we first met in Australia.  Chay and Katie rented a car and asked if we would like to join them for a bit of land tourist sight-seeing for a couple of days.  Sure!!

Saint Nicholas statue
Remember Demre (Kale)was mentioned in a recent posting as the hometown of Santa Claus.  Or at least the place where Saint Nicholas lived and became known for his generosity.  Katie informed us that St. Nick was not born in Demre (Kale); he was born in Patara....which we would visit on Tuesday.  On Monday our first stop was the Church of St. Nicholas, the Noel Baba, in Demre, the town where Saint Nicholas lived most of his life.  Remember, Saint Nicholas also is considered the patron saint of pawn brokers and sailors.....that odd combo.

According to the entrance brochure Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra.  He was born during the second half of the third century A.D. and canonized after his death (well, duh!  When was the last time someone was canonized as a saint while he or she was still alive).   Or he was born at the turn of the fourth century; the literature we read gives both estimates.   He became the most popular saint in many European countries, especially old Russia.  He became known as Santa Claus among Dutch and English speaking peoples.   Centuries later he won the affection of Americans and became regarded as one of the saints protecting New York (thanks to all the Dutch settlers in that region).  The North European tradition of Santa Claus, the protector of children who made them happy, and the belief in Saint Nicholas led to the creation of a semi-religious and very popular legendary character.  The large sleigh of Santa Claus pulled by reindeer indicates that this character originates from the ancient beliefs of northern countries.  The real Saint Nicholas of Myra lived on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea where it never snows.  From a person who protects children in need, he was converted into a sympathetic old man believed to bring Christmas gifts.  

One of many frescoes inside Noel Baba
The bare earthen Church of St. Nicholas features Byzantine frescoes and mosaic floors.  The first mention of the church that I found was when Saint Nicholas' remains were interred here upon his death in 343 A.D.   The church in Demre was destroyed in the 8th century by earthquakes and attacks to the city.  In the 9th century it was rebuilt as a domed church.  Later additions were made in the 11th century.  The most important restoration was ordered by Zoe, wife of Emperor Constantine IX, in 1042.  Most of the wall frescoes and floor mosaics date from this period.  The church was made a basilica after this restoration.  Italian merchants smashed open the sarcophagus in 1087 and supposedly carted off the bones of Saint Nicholas to Bari, Italy, where they remain today.  

UGLY bracing attempting to preserve church
Restorations sponsored by Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1862 changed the church by building a vaulted ceiling as the middle dome and a belfry -- something unheard of in early Byzantine architecture.  (Various sources indicate that it was Tsar Nicholas I who sponsored this restoration, but he was not the Tsar of Russia in 1862; it was Alexander II.)  Thus, the church looks like a complex built in various periods.  More recent work by Turkish archaeologists is to protect it from further deterioration; although all that metal scaffolding holding stones together is most unattractive.  Hopefully the metal bracing will be removed once the preservation methods being employed are completed.

Interior Church of Saint Nicholas

I won't go into all the details about the complex regarding narthexes, naos, bema, apses and synthronon because the only person who might find these of interest would be Bill's brother who is a Catholic priest and knowledgeable about church construction........other than to mention the outer narthex was rebuilt during the restoration in 1862, whereas the inner narthex maintains its original design.  Per the brochure:  "The oldest wall frescoes depicting the prophet and ecumenical councils are on the vaults of the inner narthex."  Since this is predominately a Muslim country, I assume that 'the prophet' refers to Jesus.  Islam does recognize Jesus as a prophet.

Wrong sarcophagus
At one point inside the church Bill and I got caught between 2 large groups of Russian tourists in a wide corridor.  We had no idea why everyone was congregated there or why the mass of people were moving so slowly.  
The actual sarcophogus
Bill wiggled ahead of me and held the camera high over the heads of people; snapped a photo of the area they all appeared to be centering on; and we sneaked out through a break in the wall.  Much later when I looked at the photo, I realized that the Russians thought they were standing in the line to see the sarcophagus of Saint Nicholas.  They were wrong.  There was a fancy sarcophagus in a corner at the end of that corridor that had a carving of a man on top of it.  But the brochure stated that the bones of Saint Nicholas had been stolen from the sarcophagus located in the far western area of the church.  That was in a totally different corridor.  But I guess the religious Russians were happy standing in that line and touching the fancy sarcophagus because they didn't know any better.

Russian religious tourist
Respectful religious Russians
Almost all visitors to this church today are Russian.  The women and girls still cover their heads with scarves when entering the church, like the Roman Catholics did prior to Vatican II.   It was odd to see young girls wearing tight short-shorts and tee-shirts or short skirts with high heels but with their hair covered by long scarves.  Guess bare skin doesn't count as disrespectful inside a church as long as the hair is covered.  

More Russian tourists inside church

Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia.  We got a kick out of the fact that the museum gift shop and all nearby souvenir shops price the merchandise in US dollars.  This is very unusual; everything is normally priced in either Turkish Lira or Euros.  US dollars normally are not used in this part of the world.  Except by the Russians.  The Russians still love US dollars and prefer our currency over Euros.  One of the few countries left in the world that likes US dollars. 

Lycian rock tombs at Myra
Next we drove a short distance to Myra, specifically the Myra Archaeological Site.  Little is known about this ancient Lycian city.   The date Myra was established is uncertain, but an outer defense wall dates to the 5th century B.C.   It was the capital of Lycia and for a long time was the most important city in Asia Minor. Just think; most people today have never heard of Myra.  Someday New York City could be just as forgotten.  At one time Myra was situated right by the sea, but alluvium deposited by the Demre river (Andraki Nehri) has built up a coastal plain for several miles around, as well as covering much of the ancient city about 10 feet deep.  We drove several miles inland from the sea today to reach Myra.  It is hard to fathom how much this area has filled in with dirt over the past 2,000 years.  

One of many carvings
In Roman times the emperor Germanicus and his wife Agrippina paid Myra a visit in 18 A.D.   As was the custom of the time, these important visitors were honored with statues of themselves erected in Myra's harbor (Andraki).  We did not seek out these statues.

Such detailed carvings at this old theater!
At the beginning of the Christian era, Saint Paul was bought here from Jerusalem about 60 A.D. as a prisoner on his way to his trial in Rome.  The port of Andriaki (Andriace) was adjacent to Myra and was a major trans-shipment port for grain.  Egypt was the bread basket for the Roman Empire.  Grain was brought from Alexandria to Andriaki.  The plains around Myra also were a major source of grain.  The grains from Alexandria and Myra were combined onto grain ships which then sailed to Rome.   The grain ships also often transported passengers.  Paul was put on a grain ship that went south around Crete and later wrecked on Malta.   As we all know, he did eventually make it to Rome, where he was executed.  Myra was also visited by Luke and Aristharchus (Acts 27:5/6 per the sign at Myra), who was Paul's fellow prisoner in Rome.

Bill inside theater; rock tombs upper right.
We know that Myra was a major source of rue at that time.  Rue was (and still is) a hardy perennial herb that grows in a bushy rounded manner.  It is common in SE Europe and is closely related to the orange.  In olden times it was highly reputed for seasoning and for medicine among the Greeks and the Romans.  Today it is seldom used for seasoning, although sometimes used by Italians and Germans but almost not at all by English and Americans.  It has a bitter taste, which some people develop a taste for both in foods and beverages.   It has a very pungent smell.  Probably because of its acridity and its ability to blister the skin when handled, rue has been chosen by poets through the centuries to express disdain.  Shakespeare speaks of it as the "sour herb of grace."  I had never heard of rue until I started researching the history of Myra.  During the Greek and Roman times, rue was used for 74 medicinal applications.  Wonder for what ailments.

Emperor Hadrian visited Myra in 131 A.D. and built a huge granary at Andraki composed of seven rooms and decorated with portraits of himself and his wife, who accompanied him on this visit.  This granary is still visible as one drives along the main highway into the western side of Demre (from Kas).  But if you don't know what you are looking at then it just looks like another stack of old rocks.

Fortress at top; rock tombs spaced about the mountainside;
two-tier theater with double vaulted corridor/stairs on left;
stage behind the arched openings at bottom;
note where people are standing at right shows how deep it was silted in.
Myra once had a great temple of the goddess Artemis Eleuthera which supposedly was Lycia's largest and most splendid building.  It was built on large grounds with beautiful gardens and had an inner court defined by columns, an altar and a statue of the goddess.  Not a trace of it remains today.  Saint Nicholas, in his zeal to stamp out paganism in the region, had the temple of Artemis, along with many other temples in the region, completely destroyed.   Awww, Santa Claus, you really should not have done that!

Lycian rock tombs at Myra

Myra lost one-third of its population during a terrible plague that swept through Anatolia in 542-43 A.D.  (This region is part of the large area known as Anatolia.) The city fell to the caliph Harun ar-Rashid in 808 A.D. after a siege; and Myra quickly went into decline.  Around 1100 A.D. Myra was overtaken by Seljuk invaders.  Because of Muslim raids, flooding and earthquakes, Myra was mostly abandoned by the 11th century.

At Myra there are numerous well-preserved Lycian rock tombs.  Until recently tourists could actually climb up to the tombs and examine these at close quarters.  Today the tombs are marked off with a barrier of yellow tape to keep visitors from climbing into the tombs.  This did not prevent some of the younger tourists from going around the yellow tape barrier and having their photo taken standing in the tomb entryways.  There were no security guards to prevent this activity and the archaeologists were busy with their digging and did not stop to prevent the tourists from going where they should not.  

The grassy areas in front show how deep it was buried
These rock tombs are considered the best preserved Lycian tombs anywhere.  Of course, the tombs have all been robbed.  Most that have been unearthed or discovered are close together on the left side of the Roman theater.  But we could see other tombs scattered about on the mountainside.  Those were too high to access.  Made me wonder how the people built those tombs so high up with sheer drops down the mountain.  

There supposedly is something called the Painted Tomb near the river necropolis at Myra.  It supposedly portrays a man and his family in stone relief both inside and out of the tomb.  I say 'supposedly' because we did not find this particular tomb.  High above the archaeological site sits a fortress (Roman?) but we did not see a way to get up there.

Myra is an active dig
The Myra site is still an active archaeological dig.  The day we visited men were excavating stones in the area behind the stage for the theater.  There were fields of numbered stones of every imaginable size and shape adjacent to the theater and tombs.  
Archaeologist still working behind theater stage area

I would love to see into the future and know what they will discover and re-construct in the next 50 years.   We know so little about the Lycians and their culture.  (More about ancient Lycia in my next posting.)

Bill at Myra; note fortress far upper right;
many rock tombs in mountainside; inside theater.
The theater at Myra is in pretty good condition but there is so much more to be excavated and reassembled.   The theater has 38 rows of seats, 29 lower and 7 higher rows with a wide walkway separation.  One source states that the theater was Greek in origin; another gives credit to the Romans.  I assume it is like most of the theaters in the Eastern Mediterranean and was originally built by the Greeks and then later modified by the Romans.   The theater was destroyed in an earthquake that devastated the city in 141 A.D., but  was fully restored quickly thereafter.  Shortly after that restoration, the theater was modified so that it could be used as an arena for gladiatorial games.  Our photos show how high the first row of seating was from the modified floor area to protect spectators from participants of these popular violent spectacles.  

Double vaulted corridor to upper rows of seats
This theater was more complete than others we have seen elsewhere.  Double-vaulted corridors were on either side.  On the left inside the double-vaulted corridors were steps leading up to the top rows of seating; all very well preserved...with tourists walking up and down today.   The facade was richly decorated with theatrical masks and mythological scenes; many of which have been excavated but not yet placed back in their original positions. I found some of these remarkable.

Face carved on a corner.  I love this guy.

One in particular caught my eye.  It was different from anything we have seen elsewhere.  There was a face carved on the very corner.  Quite striking.  Wish there had been more information available about this particular stone; such as where it might have been displayed and what the meaning might have been.

Jamie imitating the corner face carving

Many, many face carvings all around the site
There is an inscription in one of the stall spaces that reads in Latin "place of the vendor Gelasius."  This would be the location of an ancient concessions stand at the theater.  Cool.
Carvings not just of faces

Rock tomb out in the middle of a field, all by itself.

After Myra we stopped back in Demre for lunch.  Then drove back towards Kas.  
Isolated Lycian rock tomb
There was plenty of daylight left so when we saw the sign to turn to Üçağız the decision was unanimous that we must go there.  As we drove down off a very narrow poorly maintained mountainous road onto a flatter road through a plain toward our destination, one of us looked out at a field and noticed another rock tomb.  Just out there all by its lonesome.  (That is probably a Texas expression that won't translate for most people.)  

How cool was that!  We happened across an isolated rock tomb way off the beaten path.  As we drove through the area we noticed several more individual tombs, but not a cluster as in Myra.

Üçağız is pronounced EWCH-ah-uhz (try saying that 3 times fast) and translates as 'three mouths' for the three rivers that empty here into the Mediterranean Sea.  The ancient city situated here was called Teimiussa.  There are more Lycian tombs over 2,000 years old and even a Lycian necropolis.  And a sunken Roman city just beneath the surface of the water, which is accessible only via a boat tour.  None of us felt like doing a boat tour so missed out on seeing the sunken Roman city.  Ditto for getting out to see the castle that is really a Roman fortress on the hilltop on the peninsula.  There are no roads or walking paths to get out there.  We saw the fortress last week from our boat, but did not feel comfortable taking our boat into that tiny reef-strewn bay crowded with all the tourist boats.  And we did not want to go on a tourist boat today either, so that fortress will be skipped.  You can see it from land or sea; you just can't get there unless you take a tour boat.

I am glad we drove down to see  Üçağız.  It was a charming little village.  The government wisely prohibits any new building construction here.  Wish we had waited to have lunch there instead of eating in Demre.  This little village deserved further exploration, more than the quick drive through that we did.  Instead, we stopped at a tiny produce market where I bought peaches, cherries, melon, green beans and other things that had not been in the supermarket in Kas.  First time we have purchased fruits and vegetables at actual local prices.  Amazing how much produce 6 bucks will buy at a local Turkish village market.   

Old Teimiussa is well off the beaten path.   And it is well worth the trip.

1 comment:

  1. Loving your trip Guys! You are making me want to get there instead of going S. Africa. I'm afraid we won't want to go across the Atlantic once we get to the Carib. Also, re: your comment about Aussie pizza...well you are right the pizza and burgers are the worst here! But we must have hit Mackay on a good day, b/c we had a great one there.


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