Saturday, 29 September 2012

Time to dig a bit deeper

I'm in all sorts of trouble here. Far too much to show and tell. I'll imagine myself at primary school, standing in front of the class, legs trembling, with five minutes to do my talk. The teacher's at the back of the room, tapping her wristwatch...

Back to the wall of the best grave at Arykanda

This has been the week we started to get the hang of Turkey. Not so much modern Turkey, or the easy-going part of it we've come to know over the summer, but its previous incarnations which, now we've been here a while, seem increasingly important to learn something of.

Faces from Myra's past 

Demre's hothouses butt up against the ruins of  ancient Myra
I have a longstanding habit of finding my way into places through books.  Recently I've gone back to Orhan Pamuk, a monumental writer, and not one to underestimate his reader's intelligence. My Name is Red is set in 16th century Istanbul amongst a clique of miniaturist painters - he draws out of that esoteric brew the sharp dynamics which I am beginning to recognise as essentially of this country now called Turkey. Pamuk's books take for granted some knowledge of its glorious and inglorious history. I come up seriously short here.  Thankfully, Louis de Berniere's novel Birds Without Wings, which I mentioned in the previous post as being set in this part of Turkey (somewhere between Letoon and Fethiye, I'm guessing), assumes the reader is an ignoramus and for that reason alone it was enormously useful to read - actually, I couldn't put down my Kindle for several days.

Buried Byzantine church pillar at Olympos

Mosaic fragments in the bush at Olympos

I now have my Ottoman and my Byzantine empires better sorted; I understand a little more about the waves of Persians and Egyptians and Turks (people who came from Central Asia) which displaced the Greeks and Roman occupations on this coast and about why the tide is always out for the Armenians and the Kurds; I know more about how things stand now between Greeks and Turks (Cain and Abel, blood brothers) and about why the Turkish army and the inheritance of Mustafa Kemal 'Ataturk' has such political potency. But mostly, because of what I've read, I feel much more comfortable about being in Turkey as a non-Muslim (non-religious, to be exact). The people who've lived on this south-western region of Anatolia have never have been a homogenous lot. They're very used to rubbing along with 'infidels' and Franks, as the Ottomans used to call western Europeans.

Doorway in Kas

A Lycian king's lion tomb in Kas

Buying grapes and figs on the road in the hills behind Kas

A hundred years ago, before the brutal population exchange which accompanied the birth of the new Turkish state, the population of a town like Kas would have been a gritty mix of Turks (Muslims), Greeks (Christians), Armenians, Jews and drifters from various corners of the vast Ottoman empire. Everyone would have spoken Turkish. Occasionally people would have choked on each other's beliefs and ethnicities, but commerce then, as today, is a marvellous lubricant. I think the closest thing to being an Ottoman today is being American.

Today, Kas has a couple of mosques at least, but no churches I can see. Yet it is mellow, a live and let live kind of town, less indebted to the English tourist trade than its glitzy neighbour Kalkan, and yet open to persuasion. Perhaps this sophisticated new marina we're parked in, with blissfully few other boats around us, will change its character. I'd like to think not.

Texting at the base of the Lion Tomb

Backgammon passes the time in Kas

We came back to Kas a week ago, sporting yet another grievous injury to boating body parts. This time it was the Lewmar V3 windlass which had seized, terminally as we now know, as we were upping anchor in Kekova.  Thank God for electric winches is all I'll say, and spare you rest of the gory details - there have been too many of those already. The good news is that we've been able to buy a replacement in Turkey and it's here on the boat - and with luck, it'll be fitted by the end of the weekend.

While we were waiting for this (bigger V4) windlass to arrive from Istanbul, we did what we'd been planning to do anyway - hired a car to visit more Lycian ruins. Truly, you say, more ruins? Yes. More ruins. And not one site the same as another. All part of the Lycian League which I grow more and more fascinated by. Not just tombs, you see. So much more than tombs, in fact.

Before we set out on our travels through Lycia,  Alex been wondering how it was that he and Jan had missed it when they drove through Turkey nearly 40 years ago on their epic VW Kombi trip from London to Calcutta. "We were young, but we weren't totally uncultured," he said. As the days flipped by however, we realised that, with the possible exception of Myra, these Lycian sites in and beneath the Taurus mountains can't have been on the map back then. Locals would have always known about their ruins, and plundered from them, and perhaps a British explorer had passed that way a century before and plundered yet more and written a scholarly article or two for the Royal Whatever Society. But the money and the knowhow necessary to excavate these magnificent civic structures from the hundred of thousands of metres of silt and rubble under which they've been buried for two millenia has been available to the Turks only quite recently. Work at Patara, for example, didn't get going until the late 1980s, and at Olympos it was much later in about 2005.

Ruins at Olympos are scattered along the river leading to the sea

Roman temple lintel, Olympos

Olympos, despite the seductive name, is not really worth visiting yet. The ruins there are in their "natural" state, choked by vegetation, scattered, hard to piece together with the eye and far from being pieced together by the archeologists. The walk along the river is divine, but not so the seedy hippy strip which feeds into it. It's a long drive from Kas, and the best we could say for the effort we put in is that it was interesting to see the beginning of the excavation process - and then think of Ephesus, and of the treasures which many many decades of hard archeological labour have drawn forth from the earth.

Oops. The teacher is looking at her watch.

For sheer spectacle, Arykanda is the pick of the ruined Lycian cities. It was never as big nor as important as, say, Patara or Xanthos, but both those more famous cities must have envied the grandeur of Arykanda's setting, built as it was over five terraced levels high on a pine-clad mountainside overlooking a river valley and backed up against impregnable cliffs.  Archeological excavations started about 30 years ago and while there are still probably thousands of cubic tonnes of stony earth to barrow away, what's been uncovered so far is precious and marvellous.

Arykanda's amphitheatre is on the 4th of the city's five terraced levels

Arykanda's city hall led off the main town square

A huge bath house with a view

The press and babble of humanity which makes visiting places like Ephesus and Myra a bit of a trial is completely absent at Arykana, which is about 30 km inland from Finike and easy to miss.  Here you meet no touts and there's nothing for sale. There are no blonde Russian babes posing on terraces and tombs for the benefit of their Facebook friends, and no pompous tour guides bossing around their flocks. In fact, we saw almost no-one else at Arykanda during three hours.

The bliss of sitting under a pine tree near the stadium on the highest level, cutting into our tomatoes and bread, watched only by surveyors also on their lunch break.

Running track and seating (stadium) on the top level of Arykanda

In our solitude, and from that height, it was very easy to imagine a city in which people argued and applauded and bathed and shopped and loved until the earth quaked, and those who were left ran away to a place further down the valley.

Watching the boats sail by at Patara

We left the ancient port city of Patara till last, by chance, but that's not a bad way to do it. For the price of admission to the ruins of Patara you also get access to its better known sandy beach, Turkey's longest. There were many more people at Patara for the beach than the ruins, but it's hot, so very hot - still. We hired sunbeds under an umbrella (for the first and last time) and knew for certain that if you're from Australia or New Zealand you can't lie on a beach in Europe without thinking about home.

Roman arches at the entry to Patara

Patara was a port city built around the estuary of the Xanthos river, said by Horace and Virgil to be the birthplace of the god Apollo (??). The Lycians are thought to have moved there from Turkey's interior in the Bronze Age (3000 BC), but the height of Patara's influence was between about 200 BC and 300 AD when it was the capital of the Lycian League.  By the 7th century, by which time the Arabs had over-run the region, it was losing its clout. Its harbour had silted up, which is always a bad look for a port city. Patara is a now a swathe of wetlands (nesting for turtles) and sandy expanses covered in thorny scrub and olive trees which support a few sheep and goats. It is still pushing up ancient stones of incalculable significance.

Patara's 10,000-seat amphitheatre was even bigger than Myra's, which was bigger than Arykanda's. This was the big smoke, with big marketplaces, baths, temples (this was Apollo's town), etc. All the usual urban stuff. The most astonishing structure at Patara though is its restored assembly hall, or parliament building. From a distance the pale new stone which has been used to supplement the old stone jars the eye, offends it actually. What were they thinking?

Patara's reconstructed Lycian assembly hall, opened in 2011

Well, they, that is the Turkish government which funded the project to the tune of 6 million TL, were thinking this: "What makes this structure so special is that it once housed the national government of the Lycian League, a democratic government system setting a perfect example for all modern governmental systems, especially the Constitution of the United States of America." You need to get into it a bit, but the argument is made that the Lycian League, which first came together in 205 BC, negotiated autonomy from the Romans in 167 BC and lasted until the 3rd century AD, was the world's first recorded example of representative democracy. You sit on the benches of this chamber, which are organised in a semi-circle around a raised dais, and have at their centre a distinctive semicircular seat for the Lyciarch, who was an annually elected president, and you could be in a modern parliament. The French philosopher Montesquieu, whose book The Spirit of the Laws was the most political book in the 1780s (I've read), considered the Lycian League to be the best model for a federal republic. The framers of the US Constitution took note, and there are apparently several features of the Lycian system embedded in the US federal system, notably the way power is balanced out between the states.

So, there you have it - the cradle of democratic government is not Athens but Patara. This of course is the kind of thing that the Turks and the Greeks love to squabble about.

And I'm way way out of time. I'll lose points for that, but I've always been excitable when there are new stories to be uncovered.

Lycian inscriptions and honours outside the assembly hall

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