In October of 2016 we spent a marvelous two weeks hiking to ancient (500 BC) Lycian sites along the southwestern coast of Turkey. We cruised along the coast on a well-appointed Turkish gulet. This was a tour run by Peter Sommer Travels. There were 12 participants, 2 guides, and 4 crewmen. We generally stayed overnight in secluded coves. All of the meals, with one exception, were on the boat. The accommodations were comfortable, the food was excellent, the guides were knowledgeable and excellent raconteurs, and the scenery was consistently beautiful. The archaeological information was all new to me and I became quite intrigued by the ancient Lycian civilization. A great trip!
The ancient Lycians are among the most enigmatic people of antiquity because little of the historical record has been left behind them. But what has been discovered reveals a fascinating people culturally distinct from the rest of the ancient world at the time. Around twenty major sites remain today with the Lycians’ unusual funerary architecture, including incredible rock-cut tombs carved into cliff faces dominating the breathtaking unspoiled land of Lycia.
Although the Lycians no longer exist, their tombs are able to tell us a lot about them. They tell us about the way the Lycians treated their dead, as well as their skill as craftsmen. It is also through these funerary monuments that we may be able to learn something about the way they lived. For instance, some reliefs on the rock-cut tombs depict mythological scenes, and this may give us some understanding of the belief system of the Lycians. Hence, the funerary monuments of the Lycians are not only able to inform us about the dead, but also shed light on their lives. Sources: 1,2, 3
Looking east from the coast significant mountain ranges are visible. Because of these mountain ranges, travel was much restricted within Lycia itself and access to many parts of the country was practical only by traveling along the coast as we were doing on this tour. The coastline is very rugged and in fact, the country is basically hilly with only an occasional flat area. The climate of Lycia is typical of the Mediterranean coast–lush and green in the spring, hot and dry in the summer. Along the coast, the vegetation seemed to be mostly grasses, olive trees, and oak trees. Each day we would disembark from the boat and hike to an archaeological site. The hikes varied in duration from part of a day to all day. The trails were somewhat rocky in places but more annoying were the dwarf oaks that had leaves like holly and were often actively diminishing the width of the trail. Most of the hikes made use of the Lycian Way trail. The trail passes through ancient Lycia and is over 300 miles in length. My favorite hike was the hike to the shoulder of Father Mountain, with stunning views of Oludeniz, Father Mountain, and Butterfly Valley.
Two other interesting observations. Extensive use is made of hot houses for vegetable production. In the hills honey production is common. We encountered several large clusters of bee hives.
The towns we visited were off the beaten path and have received little archaeological study. To walk through these less explored sites is quite a different experience from visiting well established and popular archaeology sites. Lacking definitive knowledge of the sites allowed me to let my imagination take over. I could create my own fantasy world. Here I was walking upstairs that had been carved out of rock more than 2,000 years ago. Exciting.
The towns were close to the sea but generally on hill tops for defense purposes. They were often associated with a town at a lower elevation that would provide the required supplies of food etc. Obviously, all that remains of the towns after 2000 years are the structures made out of rock–important buildings, churches, homes of the wealthy etc. Many of the towns also had an amphitheater. The workers would have lived in wooden structures long since destroyed. As I meander through the remains I wonder what the daily life was like. How many man-hours were required to cut out the stone blocks and then construct the buildings? What was a day like for the workers? See this article For a more detailed discussion of the sites on this trip
The most striking feature were the Lycian tombs. ‘Beautiful monumental tombs associated with some form of ancestor worship. The Lycians developed this form of art to perfection, no doubt facilitated by the soft limestone of the region. The quality of stone masonry of the Lycian people is noteworthy and is especially significant in the construction of tombs. Today the entire landscape of Lycia is still dotted with their fascinating funerary monuments. The most recent count has revealed one thousand and eighty-five examples still intact, rock-cut tombs being the most common form. Lycia is famous for the sheer number of tombs and their quality.’ See this article.
The town sites were occupied by successive civilizations (Greek, Roman, Persian) and the existing remains reflect the ongoing change. Parts of buildings were reused for new buildings and smaller churches were build inside older churches. This reuse continues to this day and current towns make use of these existing remains.
We also viewed a section of a Roman aqueduct where it crosses a low-lying valley by using pressure pipes and the inverted siphon principle. Another amazing example of Roman engineering. We continued hiking following the aqueduct for some distance as we headed to the ancient city of Patara. This article will provide you more information about the aqueduct.
Most of our overnight stays were in secluded coves and thus we spent little time in cities with the exception of Kas and Simena. Kas was an attractive and popular town with many restaurants along the waterfront. Simena was much smaller and quite non-commercial. It was a mixture of rustic houses and restaurants and a few local vendors all interwoven with small paths. Our one local experience during the trip was in this town. We were up early and encountered two women making gozleme in the traditional way. While we had no need for food we finally decided to try a gozleme with herbs and cheese. Fresh is always good.
The ancient city of Simena was once of two parts–an island and a coastal part of the mainland. On the mainland the charming fishing village of Kaleköy (“castle village”) stands today, its buildings mingling with ancient and medieval structures. The top of the village is dominated by a well-preserved castle built by the Knights of Rhodes partially upon ancient Lycian foundations.
Kayaköy (Levissi), is a village in southwestern Turkey. In Roman ancient times, it was a Greek-speaking city in the Lycia province. Anatolian Greeks continued to inhabit the city until approximately 1922 when they either perished or fled to Greece. Among the causes for the Turkish campaign against the Greek population was a fear that the population would aid the Otto
man Empire’s enemies, and a belief among some Turks that to form a modern nation state it was necessary to purge from the territories of the state those national groups who could threaten the integrity of a modern Turkish nation state.The townspeople were subsequently barred from returning by the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey. The ghost town consists of hundreds of rundown but still mostly standing Greek-style houses and churches which cover a small mountainside.
The general environment