Saturday, 22 September 2012

Forever Kekova

On of the best parts of meeting a Mediterranean country at its coastline (once you've filtered out the ugly clutter of mass tourism) is how satisfyingly parts of its scattered history begin to fall into place. For example, the placement of ancient ruins which, if you're being guided by the Lonely Planet are described as tricky to reach by road or public transport, becomes perfectly obvious when you're on a sailboat.

Kekova, where we've been idling away the past week, is a case in point. It's on a coast renowned for the severity of its mountains and for land-based travellers, it's remote.  Tourists who want to see this "watery paradise" (and we were surprised at how many do) have to organise themselves to get to the town still known as Demre (its Greek name) which is far from both Marmaris and Antalya. But if you're travelling by boat around the southwest of Turkey as people have done for many many centuries before ours, the accessibility of this beautiful stretch of sheltered water behind the four-mile long Kekova island looks altogether different, and it makes perfect sense to find it rich in ruins including a stunning Crusader castle built over the top of an ancient Lycian stronghold above Kale Koy.

The Lycians, in case you are as dim about ancient history as I have been until very recently, were first mentioned by Homer in The Illiad, but if you like your reading a little more contemporary you can glean a bit about them in Louis de Bernieres novel Birds without Wings. They're mostly remembered for their tombs which are mesmerising - I don't think you can take too many photos of Lycian tombs.

A few weeks ago we clambered over what's left of Xanthos which was one of the big six Lycian cities - there was an organised league of them, about 13 in all. Simena, which is the name of the sunken city that tourists peer at through glass-bottomed boats at Kekova, was one of the smaller ones. An earthquake toppled it into the sea in the 2nd century AD apparently.

When we arrived into Kekova, we saw only the water and the rocks. Rocks to be dodged primarily. But then, as our eyes acclimatised, it became like looking for Wally and we saw them - lintels, steps leading into the water, roof shapes, interior walls.  People lived all around the water, just as we do in Sydney. Louisa Rd, I muttered to Alex. Will people be squinting at the sketchy outlines of sunken Birchgrove mansions and infinity pools in the future, after the rising tide has covered Sydney's waterfront properties?

There are two small settlements around Kekova (which is the name for the body of water between the island of that name and the mainland). Both have been inhabited since 400 BC, or thereabouts. Ucagiz, a grubby little place which takes the brunt of the tourist trade and is accessible by road, has the accoutrements of modernity - carpet shops, tourist operators, public toilets - and Lycian tombs. We went in to drop off our rubbish, sat down in the shade for an orange juice (drawn to a corner cafe by the sound of jazz) and mutely communicated with a very old lady who sat beside us to catch her breath. She had such beautiful hands, hands to be proud of. As the vege man had produce to boast about.

 The other settlement, Kale Koy, is a pretty little hamlet where development, we learned, has been more or less  frozen by Turkey's richest family, which owns a luxurious house, with helipad, sitting pretty under the castle - we figured this house in the picture below, built over a Lycian rock tomb, must be it).

It's from the castle above Kalekoy that you get the best sense of the importance of Kekova. He who owned that view owned the waterway (the gecko thinks it's his now).

 The man who takes the 8 TL for your entry ticket, and importantly buzzes you through the electronic gates, is the same man who pants up the long stairway to the top of the castle carrying a bundled up Turkish flag bigger than a bedspread which he hoists just in case anyone is in doubt as to who owns this trophy ruin now (and it's a fair guess that it wasn't the Turks a century ago).

The jewel inside the Crusade fortress is this tiny amphitheatre below, unmistakably Lycian, and there are also Roman-style baths. Such a muddle.

I got myself into a bit of muddle over a fringed scarf. Wherever there is a ruin, there are people making money out of it. Fair enough. I just don't know how to say no. Alex stands back, amused, as I allow emotion to  interfere with the deal - but I couldn't disappoint her, could I?  She'd spent the winter embroidering the borders, she said (why do I doubt? too much exposure to cheap Chinese haberdashery?). Oh well, I may yet wear a Turkish headscarf to cover my head against the wind, already much cooler than it was two weeks ago.

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