Anemurium

The ancient city of Anemurium in southern Anatolia welcomes visitors with its sweet-smelling breezes.

Probably the most salient point that could be made about Anemurium is that it is located at the southernmost point of Asia Minor. For, like today’s Anamur, it was a slightly isolated city, a virtual island on land, that seemed to stand outside the region in which it was located. Even today the city appears so insignificant as to engender mild disappointment in those who scour the sources both ancient and modern for detailed information. Or perhaps the right word is ‘mysterious’. In fact, it is like a stranger about whom there is actually much to be said, about whom little is known but all are curious.
Anemurium is located in the southern part of Rough Cilicia, at the tip of the peninsula to which it gives its name. The name is generally acknowledged to be derived from Anemos, Hellenic Greek for ‘wind’, and to signify ‘windy place’, but this remains a subject of controversy. Little is known of its early history, including the exact date when it was founded. What is known is that it existed in the Hellenistic period, which, for such an inscrutable city, is already saying a lot. Most of the ruins visible today however date from the Roman period.

A COMMERCIAL CITY

Cilicia consisted of two separate parts, very different from each other both geographically and culturally, Cilicia Trakheia (Rough Cilicia) and Cilicia Pedias (Smooth Cilicia), both of which boasted cities of great historical significance throughout antiquity. With strategic neighbors to the north and as the gateway to the lands across the sea to the south, Cilicia was one of the richest and most dynamic regions of Anatolia. But to what extent was Anemurium affected by this dynamism?
As Strabo points out, the city is the continent’s point nearest to Cyprus and, thanks to this natural setting, in time became a prominent port. During the reigns of the last Commagene king, Antiochus IV, and of the Roman emperors Titus and Valerian in particular, it achieved great prosperity and minted its own coins. Commercial ships coming from the Mediterranean, the Arab countries and Cyprus stopped first at Anemurium, affording great pleasure to both the merchants and the general populace. “Go there, unload your ship, and everything will be sold,” says Strabo as an indication of how commercially thriving the city was. But invading ships from the same countries also made Anemurium their first stop. When the Persians, following several such incursions, finally invaded Cilicia in 260, Anemurium took an irreversible step backwards. During this period, as it incurred severe damage in the Isaurian raids on the Taurus, an attempt was made to reinforce the city with a new system of defense walls, but in the long run this proved of no avail. Then, in 580, the city was badly damaged in an earthquake. When the Arabs, who had already conquered Cyprus, attacked the city after 650, the local people were forced to abandon their homes and migrate to other regions. In the 12th century, a portion of Cilicia
—the part that included Anemurium—came under Armenian rule. But when the Armenian kingdom broke up in the 14th century Anemurium was abandoned.
Owing to its isolated situation, Anemurium was for a time forgotten. For a long time it simply gazed out from its windswept hill on the vastness of the Mediterranean shores and their solitude of former centuries. It was British naval officer and hydrographer Francis Beaufort who first mentioned Anemurium in his work on Turkey’s Mediterranean shores, ‘Karamania; or a brief description of the South Coast of Asia Minor, and of the Remains of Antiquity’, which in time was followed up by other important research on the subject.

WALKING ON MOSAICS

Anemurium is situated on a coastal plain to the east of the headland of the same name. The city, which was planned in two sections as a lower city and necropolis, consists of five areas. Remains from the Roman period include a theater and, slightly beyond it, an odeon, a bath, an agora, aqueducts and the defense walls. Largely in ruins today, these are not particularly well-delineated or enlightening to the eye. With their mosaic floors, most of the structures point to a rich and tasteful lifestyle. Even today, when one stirs up the earth slightly in the area where the ruins are located, mosaic fragments come into view. For preservation, most of them have been covered with a layer of sand, but the guard on duty is usually willing to uncover at least a few of them, bringing them into brief contact with the light of the sun and admiring eyes.
Liman Caddesi, or Port Avenue, was one of the city’s most bustling areas. Lined with columns, it was the road that brought merchants, luxury goods, gifts and, of course, invaders into the city. Not a single temple or religious structure dedicated to any of the Greek or Roman gods or goddesses has been found in Anemurium until now. This of course does not mean that the city’s residents were non-believers, but it does reinforce the general view of this signally enigmatic city. Since Anemurium in the Byzantine period was the seat of a bishopric attached to the Metropolitan of Seleucia, there are ruins of a large number of churches in the city—inside the walls, outside the walls, in the citadel and on the necropolis. The Necropolis Church at the northern edge of the necropolis was built over the foundations of an older Roman structure approximately in the year 400; enlarged in a later period, it took on the form of a basilica. Some of the mosaics that adorned its floor are still visible today. One of them shows a palm tree flanked by a leopard on one side and the figure of a child on the other with an inscription from Isaiah 11:6: “And the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”

UNEARTHED ARTIFACTS IN THE ANAMUR MUSEUM

When Beaufort first arrived in 1812, he spoke of a city literally in ruins: “We took a quick look at what appeared to be the remains of a great city on the crest of the headland and at the ruins which were scattered over a broad area outside the walls.” 

There was in truth a city here, but a city of graves, a perfect necropolis.” Anemurium is truly in possession of a large and splendid necropolis, the likes of which are rarely encountered. There are around 350-400 graves here, the best-preserved necropolis in Anatolia, most of them with an antechamber whose floor is paved with mosaics. There are frescoes as well on the walls of the burial chambers. The most striking of these chambers boasts two frescoes, one of them depicting the four seasons, the other Hermes accompanying souls to the underground. The artifacts unearthed in the excavations conducted in the city are on exhibit today in the Anamur Museum. Oil lamps of baked clay with human faces, grave goods made of bronze and bone, decorative objects, coins, medals... Anemurium, which was regarded as smaller and less important in comparison with its contemporary neighbors and peers in antiquity, was rich and bustling but never played a leading role. Like a story that is interesting for those who know how to read between the lines, it is a virtual ghost town, ‘far from the madding crowd’. And the answer to the question of why one should go there is hidden between the lines as well.