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Walking Through History: A Journey Along the Turquoise Coast
February 12, 2000

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Peaking through the windows of time...thought to be a bishop's house from the 1st century

After a long, hard week of travel, Abeja and I had visited six different kingdoms. Okay, that's not exactly true. Had we been visiting the Turkey of 3200 years ago, however, that statement could very well be true. The catch is that we would have had to cover the amount of land we covered this week but with a very different mode of transportation. How do you think the people of 122 BC traveled? Yep, you guessed it. Without the convenience of our automotive technology, the only resource would have been to walk!

If we had to walk, I don't think we would have made it very far. The slow pace of transportation is one of the reasons ancient kingdoms were established so close together, only to them it probably didn't seem so near. Just imagine how different the world was. The planet's population wasn't even a fourth of what it is today. The modern conveniences that we take for granted were still thousands of years in the making.

It was during this time period that a system of coinage was invented. Before then there was no such thing as money. Wealth was held in property, land, and slaves. It makes me wonder what the people 3000 years from now will think of us? Maybe their technology will enable them to come back in time and pay us a visit. As for Abeja and I, we're still limited to 21st century technology, so we have to try to put all of the pieces together the best way we know how...Odyssey Worldtrek style!

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Abeja at ancient ruins in Olimpos

For years archaeologists have been trying to find the keys to unlock Turkey's ancient past. The Mediterranean Coast of Southern Turkey, along the Taurus Mountain Range, has been a particularly favored spot. When we arrived it was obvious why; archaeologists don't have to look hard to find clues. The ancient kingdoms of the Coast of Light, as it was once called, have left their mark. And while the Turks today find it commonplace to live amongst the 3000 year old ruins, it was a Trekker's delight. Everywhere we turned, we found ruins of entire ancient cities. In the fields, along the roadside, carved into mountains, and even partially sunken along the coast were bits of history and pieces of the past. There are temples, necropoli (cities of the dead), theatres, and water channeling systems. We even found out that some of the roads still traveled today are roads that were erected way back then. That just goes to show that the kingdoms and leaders of old surely paved the way.

Following the rule of the Hittites, from 2600 to 1300 BCE, came the generation that laid the foundation for the next 3000 years. Mostly refugees fleeing persecution, groups of 'sea-peoples' landed in Turkey along the coast where the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas meet. Around 1200 BCE they began to create settlements that were a mixture of native peoples and these Greek invaders. At the same time Greek settlers from the island of Crete founded what became the Phrygian kingdom. The Greeks who populated the more Eastern regions of the coast founded Ionia. To the south were the kingdoms of Caria and Lydia, bordered by Lycia and Pamphylia on the east. These kingdoms all flourished from 1200 to about 545 BCE. That's when the great Persian invasion swept through Anatolia from the east, conquering almost everyone in their path.

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Jazzy at the Chimaera

Of all the ancient kingdoms, historical records disclose the least written information about the Lycians. I wondered why it was that they were so well-known? It was time to investigate. We had just visited the ruins in Olimpos where we found a crumbled ancient city hidden in the forest. The ruins were mostly Roman and Byzantine, but they were built on old Lycian towns. We then discovered the eternal flames of the fire-breathing Chimaera only to find that it is also related to the Lycians. Numerous Greek myths written about the Chimaera make references to Lycia; more then any other historical text found. And despite the lack of other written evidence, the clues they left behind give insight into the Lycian people and their culture. Facts about Lycia only started becoming available as the kingdom was nearing its end. The Persian Wars, written by Herodutus, clearly record the events that led to the Persian rule, once their invasion began in 545 BC.

One particular battle took place in Xanthos, the Lycian capital at the time. The battle had taken a turn for the worst and the Lycians, knowing they would lose, hoarded their women, children, and slaves into the acropolis. When they were sure there would be no escape they set the acropolis on fire. The last soldiers then marched into battle, until not a single man was left.

Persian control was followed by the conquest of Alexander the Great, which spread from Macedonia. Lycia and its neighboring kingdoms were then handed down to the Ptolemies, the Romans and the Rhodians. The region eventually merged with neighboring Pamphylia into a single province, Lycia et Pamphylia, never to regain its independence again.

Fortunately, the battle at Xanthos did not seal Lycia's fate. After the sorrowful defeat, the Lycians and their neighboring kingdoms slowly managed to recover. Though they would never again have complete autonomy, they formed the Lycian League, which governed the regions religious, economic and legal matters. They also minted their own coins. Twenty-three cities prospered under the council of the Lycian League, but they were always subject to Persian authority.


disclose - To make known; to reveal or uncover
autonomy - Self-government, independence or freedom
phenomenon - Something extraordinary, a remarkable thing or person

Of all of the Lycian cities, we found the most stunning record of achievement in Demre. The Lycians had a unique and intricate way of carving their tombs into the sides of mountains and sheer cliffs. Myra is home to many of those tombs. They survive today due to their shrewd and well thought out plan. Thieves did eventually plunder the tombs, but their cliff-design stayed otherwise intact. It was absolutely stunning for us to behold the honeycombed tombs spread across the face of the rocks. It was even more unbelievable that they were able to achieve such a difficult task. There were no cranes, lifts or bulldozers back then, so how did they do that?! Archaeologists are still baffled by this phenomenon. The other kingdoms of the time must have thought it truly exceptional as well, as they readily adapted the rock-cut style of their Lycian neighbors.

This was only the beginning. After a day of trying to understand how they carved their tombs in the rocks, we set out to discover the softer side of Myra. Myra, which comes from the word Myrrh, was once a very important commercial center. The seaport boasts some of the most exceptional natural harbors of the region. This is a strategically positioned port city.

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Rock-cut Tombs of Myra

Myra also boasts natural hot springs for those needing to be healed. They draw quite a crowd, so, of course, we had to investigate. Our friend and motorboat captain, Salih, told us that, despite the funny smell, the hot spring's waters are still cleansing today. You need just one sip on an empty stomach to cure any tummy ache &$40;the natural sulfur in the water is to blame for the smell and the cure).

We left Myra on Salih's boat. Once out of the harbor we buzzed through 'Ucagiz', which translates to 'Three Mouths'. Luckily, we weren't swallowed up as we made our way to the next part of the harbor. Ucagiz actually refers to the three entrances that lead into the old Lycian Teimiussa.

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Jazzy high above the ruins and the waters on a Kekova island

These collections of villages, situated on a series of islands, are a pirate's dream. Sheltered there is the Blue Cave, and a dozen harbors that probably made great hiding spots, both for them and their treasures. The castle fortresses poised high on the top of Simena and Turquoise Bay are clues that the Lycians were on the lookout. Unfortunately, their defenses were not enough. Pirate attacks on the seagoing commerce that sailed by the Lycian coast began the final decay of the proud Lycian culture. The raids of the Arabs in the 7th century finished the Lycian cities, which had been in a long decline. Today scholars and archaeologists attempt to dive deeper to uncover the past of this ancient people. What they are hoping to uncover is a jewel even pirates couldn't steal away, a rich history waiting to be told.

Related Links

Turkish Odyssey


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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