Can an ancient city impart a sense of being at ‘land’s end’? Can it face the Mediterranean and the Aegean simultaneously? The peninsula that juts into the sea at Knidos will point you to its crystalline blue waters.
Turkey is an archaeologists’ paradise. Just coming to Anatolia is enough put them in seventh heaven! For the Urartus, the Phrygians, the Hittites, the Lycians, the Bithynians, the Lydians, the Romans, the Seljuks and many others all passed through these lands, leaving their unique traces in the form of mounds, tumuli, palaces, temples, ports and ancient cities. Troy, Sardis, Zeugma, Ephesus, Çatalhöyük, Hierapolis, Gordium, Amaseia, Olba, Pisidia Antiokheia, Aspendos, Pergamum, Anemurium, Herakleia, Perge, Andriake, Myra, Patara, Letoon, Pınara, Sagalassus, Halicarnassus, Alinda and Tlos for a start.
Shall I name more? Simena, Colophon, Lymyra, Olympus, Pompeipolis, Kremna, Ayatekla, Clazomenae, Larissa, Elaia, Sminthenion, Ksanthos, Assos, Neapolis, Tarsus, Seleukeia, Pieria, Misis... And still more? Kültepe, Hattusha, Alacahöyük, Korasion, Bybassos, Blaundos, Klaros, Limos, Cappadocia, Diocaesarea, Side, Silyon, Myndos, Kerdai, Gerga... the list goes on and on.
But let’s leave it at that because I’m getting tired, even though there are still scores of ancient cities waiting to be mentioned. I’m heading now for my favorite ancient city for rest and repose. The bays, known as ‘bük’ in Turkish, on the Reşadiye Peninsula where it’s situated wait now like so many blue vessels at the feast of the sun. Knidos (Cnidus), Datça’s vanguard with one eye on the Mediterranean and one on the Aegean, has always fascinated me. If once in your life you sit down next to the lighthouse and watch the sun dissolve like a fire-red drop in the blue of the sea, Knidos will become far more than an ancient city for you. There are images that remain engraved in the memory forever, giving happiness whenever you recall them; and this is one such. You won’t be able to tear yourself away from Knidos until its spell dissipates.
A DOUBLE HARBOR
In the words of Oktay Sönmez, this place is ‘sleeping beauty in blue’, poking into the sea like a finger, inviting flying fish to land. Knidos, a crystal finger jabbing the sea’s blue waters, is blessed with natural harbors where mermaids, weary dolphins, and Blue Cruise yachts come to rest. I say ‘harbors’ in the plural because there are two of them, on the north and on the south, that offer ships protection depending on the direction of the wind. In spring, daisy pollen tossed by the wind blows over the South Port where amphorae were once loaded onto ships, while the earth wafts the fresh scent of thyme to the North Port. Harking to the strains of Apollo’s lyre in the moonlight, archaeologists cast off the day’s weariness and abandon themselves to dreams. Knidos may send a tiny shudder through the hearts of visitors that stay on after dark, but the meteors that shoot like balls of fire through the Milky Way are poetry in motion.
Unlike today, Knidos thirty years ago was not easily accessible. The ‘path’ leading from Datça’s Yazıköy village to Knidos, which sticks in my memory as one of Turkey’s most abominable roads in those days, was widened and improved last year. None of which alters the fact that this road boasts one of the most beautiful views ever in the entire history of the world. It is this beauty that in summer impels impatient visitors to take a dip in the bay of either Bağlarözü or Domuzini without even noticing Knidos’ outer walls, which stretch all the way down to the water. The soul too is washed clean in the waters of these bays flecked with Aphrodite’s foam. Knidos, where the broom turns yellow in autumn, was the most famous of the ancient cities founded by the Dorians, who came from the north and settled first on the Aegean islands, spreading out from there to the shores of Western Anatolia. Sailors arriving at this city perched on terraced slopes cannot forget her. But Knidos’ real allure lies in its statue of Aphrodite, the most beautiful in the world, which rises over a temple at the western edge of the city, greeting sailors that approach her shores. The ancient sculptor Praxiteles made two statues of Aphrodite, one clothed, the other nude, which the people of Knidos shared with the island of Cos. The people of Cos took the clothed one and erected it on their island while the nude statue stayed at Knidos. All that remains today, however, of the statue of Euoploia Aphrodite are the legends that surround it, whose truth value remains an unknown. And for now at least, the story of another sculpture, the famous Knidos Lion, lives on far from its homeland in the cavernous galleries of London’s British Museum.
Visitors to Knidos should not be surprised to see the theater and several other buildings still standing outside the city walls; for a large number of structures owe their survival to the sturdy Knidos marble. Where, for example, do you think the stone came from that Kavalalı Mehmet Pasha brought in by ship for the magnificent palace he had built at Cairo? Or the marble for the Dolmabahçe Palace at Istanbul in one of whose rooms Atatürk spent his last days and died? Didn’t it also come from Knidos?
“YESTERDAY I ROAMED THE MOUNTAINS”
Knidos has made a name for itself in diverse fields from astronomy and architecture to medicine and pharmacology, which utilizes the peninsula’s many medicinal herbs. And a large number of Knidos natives, from Sostratos, the architect of the Lighthouse at Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, to the mathematician Eudoxos, one of the world’s first astronomers, have shed their light on the field of human knowledge. Meanwhile we should pause for a moment and gaze in the direction of Tekir Burnu point from under an olive tree and remember the name of Iris Cornelia Love, an American archaeologist with a fervent attachment to Knidos, who undertook excavations to bring to the light of day all the things these ancient men once created. As I wound my way down the dirt road to the town on my last visit to Knidos, I tried to imagine not the wars and devastation but those days. A line from the poet Ilhan Berk, who lived not far from Knidos at Halicarnassus, was echoing through my mind on that day: “Yesterday I roamed the mountains / I was not at home.”
As I write these lines now, I remember a foreigner who peddled all the way from Datça to the little wooden boat landing at Knidos. Having covered a difficult road under the hot sun, he had made his way down to the shore and was waiting for a sailboat that was coming to pick him up. Now, on a cold winter day, as I look out the window of my study at the last leaves clinging to the chestnut trees, I add another line from Berk next to the bicycle that the man rested on the quay: “The land plumbed the depths of the sky / And then wrote the story of the sea.”