Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kas trip: Ruins of Tlos and Patara

I really love traipsing around Turkey's ancient ruins; we'd visited Myra and Andriake on our first full afternoon in Kas, and we'd gone to Xanthos, Letoon and Patara two years ago, so that really only left one major set of ruins in the general area: Tlos. Our plan for the day was ambitious -- we'd visit Tlos in the morning, spend the early afternoon at Saklikent Gorge, and end the day at Patara. It turned out that our plan was too ambitious, mostly because the drive to/from Tlos, mostly along a two-lane road through fields and farms once you get off the highway, takes much longer than the mileage would indicate.

Tlos was another important Lycian city, though the Rough Guide says little is known of its history (which might explain why there's little information about it on the interwebs or at the site itself). It's old, apparently referred to in 14th-century BC Hittite records. But even unexplained, Tlos is pretty amazing. Driving up from the Xanthos Valley, suddenly the road turns, and there it is, the acropolis and rock tombs perched dramatically on the hill. It's quite the introduction.

At the main part of the site, you can walk up the hill, past stone sarcophagi (Lonely Planet says this was the necropolis) to check out the rock tombs -- you can even go into one -- and wander around the ruins on top, the residence of a 19th-century Ottoman governor, which is nothing more than bare walls now. When we were there, archaeologists were working on the Roman stadium at the bottom of the hill, where the stands have been excavated on one side. Further down the road, there are the remains of a church and public baths, which you can wander around, and the theater, which was fenced off.

But the highlight of our trip to Tlos was finding Bellerophon's tomb, no easy task. Bellerophon is a hero in the Greek myths -- riding Pegasus, he managed to kill the Chimera, a three-headed monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail. When he died, legend says he was buried in Tlos. The myth says he was disgraced because he thought he was worthy of flying to Mount Olympos, but his tomb -- sporting a temple facade -- is huge.

There aren't any signs on how to get there -- we used Lonely Planet's slightly vague directions and lucked out. Basically, when you're standing at the entrance booth to go up to the acropolis, there are some rock-cut tombs to the right. You walk to them, and then follow the path down along the rock face -- it goes all the way to the bottom of the rock and back up again. About halfway back up, you'll see a flimsy wooden ladder and a spray-painted red arrow -- you go up the ladder and the tomb is right there, to the left. It only takes about 5 minutes to walk there, but it's a pretty steep up/downhill, and we had it to ourselves.

There's nothing in the tomb (or in any of the tombs), but Bellerophon's does have some reliefs on the outer walls, including one of him riding Pegasus. (You can see it on the wall behind me.)

We left Tlos early afternoon and headed toward Saklikent Gorge. This area of Turkey is largely agricultural, and as we drove along the two-lane road, past stands of trees and up and down mini-mountains, we saw beehives, sundried tomatoes actually being sundried on metal roofs, a zillion pomegranate trees, melons growing in fields... It took longer than expected to get to Saklikent (and back to the main road), so we decided to leave the gorge for another trip and just go to Patara.
Patara is known as the birthplace of St. Nicholas, but these days, it's more famous for its long, sandy beach, a rarity in Turkey. From what I've seen, most people just pass the ruins on their way to the beach, and you can't really blame them -- the ruins at Patara are pretty spread out, and like Tlos, there's almost no information at the site to help you navigate them or figure out what you're seeing. The triumphal arch and amphitheater are pretty obvious; most everything else is not. (However, unlike Tlos, there is quite a bit of information available on the Internet.)
We started our little tour at the crumbling amphitheater, which is interestingly built into a hill -- you can't tell at the bottom, but if you climb to the top, you see that the stones of the theater start blending into the natural rock. Next to the theater is an odd building, one that appears to be a theater but also looks brand-new. It turns out that this is the Bouleuterion, the world's first democratic parliamentary building and where the Lycian League met. According to the Fethiye Times, the US Founding Fathers were inspired by the Lycian League when writing the Constitution; "Documents show that both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison referred to the League as a good model." The Bouleuterion was discovered in 1991, excavated between 2000 and 2006, and then rebuilt by the Turkish government at a cost TL 7.5 million (about $4.1 mil) and opened to the public in May 2012. There's an incredible difference between old and new; check out this Flickr photo from 2006.)
The Lycian League, which was formed in approximately 205 BC, had 23 known members. The six biggest cities -- Tlos, Xanthos, Pinara, Patara, Myra and Olympos -- sent three representatives, while other location sent one or two representatives, depending on their size. The League elected its president, called a lyciarch, annually; you can still see the semi-circular seat, in the photo above and to the right, where he (or she?) would sit.
After we walked through both the amphitheater and the Bouleuterion, we strolled down the path to the column-lined Main Avenue, which was once bordered with shops. In one, we found the broken-up pieces of a mosaic.
After that, we called it a day. There are a number of other ruins at Patara, most notably what's been called the oldest lighthouse in the world, but we had no idea how to get over to it, and it was getting pretty late. Oh well, next time.
On the way back, we drove past the gorgeous Kaputas Beach. It's located in a cleft between two mountainsides, and you have to climb down what looks like at least 100 stairs to get to it. We still, unfortunely, have not been down there. So I suppose once again I have to say, oh well, next time. :)
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