One of the oldest cities of Lycia, Limyra lies in the foothills of Mount Tocak at Finike, famed for its oranges.
Man strives perpetually to understand himself, seeking the roots of the self in philosophy, the future in cosmology, the past in archaeology. As he does so, his concern for simplicity and aesthetic considerations gradually recedes into the background in the name of progress, technology and making life easier. Let us compare for a moment the buildings of our day with those of the past. On the one hand, skyscrapers, those leviathans of steel girders and post-modern concrete; on the other, golden temples, giant pyramids, statues and monumental tombs. And when we consider the technical possibilities that were available in the period when they were built, then these monuments from antiquity, when the visual took precedence over all else, are even more awesome.
I am thinking these thoughts as I stand before the monumental tomb of the Lycian king Pericle (not to be confused with the famous Athenian orator), on a terrace in the foothills of Mount Tocak. What makes this tomb interesting is the way that caryatids (statues of women in Greek architecture) were used instead of columns to support the roof beams on the north and south sides. According to Prof. Jürgen Borchhardt, the roof is not in the Lycian style at all but rather was built in the form of a Greek temple to symbolize Pericle’s elevation to the status of a hero. These valuable finds, one portion of which is currently under restoration, are on exhibit in the Antalya Museum today. The ruined base left from the monumental tomb, which was destroyed in a powerful earthquake, seems to gaze down on the Mediterranean and the plain below, bursting with orange and lemon groves, and dream of its splendid past.
CAPITAL OF LYCIA
Founded in the foothills of Mt Tocak between Kumluca and Turunçova, Limyra is first mentioned in the pages of Strabo’s and Pliny’s histories. The city’s existence dates back to the 6th century B.C. Under the rule of the Lycian king Pericle, whose name is encountered on coins dating to the 4th century B.C., Limyra became the Lycian capital and enjoyed a golden age. The city, whose name appears as ‘Zemuri’ in inscriptions in the Lycian language, had autonomy like the other seventy cities that comprised the Lycian League. The chief god of the city, which came under Roman rule in the 1st century B.C., was Zeus, in whose name athletic contests were organized. Limyra was also one of twenty-five Lycian cities that became seats of bishoprics in the Byzantine era. The city, whose importance waned with Arab raids in the 8th century A.D., later came under the rule, in turn, of the Seljuks, the Menteşe Principality and finally the Ottomans. A major part of this ancient settlement has now been brought to light in the excavations and restorations undertaken in 1966 under the direction of Prof. Borchhardt, a faculty member at the University of Vienna. The ruins are concealed amidst a modern-day settlement in the quarter of Saklısu in the village of Yuvalı, three kilometers from Turunçova. The nomads who were settled in this region years ago live cheek by jowl with history today. Visitors who weary of exploring the ancient city can chat over tea in the homes of these eminently hospitable people.
The structures behind the walls still standing on the right-hand side of the highway date to the Roman and Byzantine periods. The crystal clear Göksu (Limyros) River also has its source in this area, which was once the city center. Refreshing the historical site with its cool waters, the Göksu joins the Aykırıçay (Arykandos) a little further on before emptying into the Mediterranean.
Crossing the bridge over the stream, we come upon an ancient avenue whose stone slabs are just discernible under the water. Among the city’s other major structures are the Ptolemaion monument, the arch of triumph, the bishop’s palace, the church, the public bath and the eastern gate. But undoubtedly the most important structure within the city walls is the monumental tomb built for Gaius Caesar, who died in Limyra while returning from his Syrian campaign. Such structures, which are built to honor the memory of a person who died in the provinces far from home but which do not actually contain the dead body, are called cenotaphs. This one is decorated with reliefs depicting the beneficial deeds Caesar performed in the East.
WITH A MEDITERRANEAN VIEW
The theater, which is situated beside the main road at the entrance to the city, was built in the 2nd century A.D. when the city was at its wealthiest. Opramos, a rich man from Rhodopolis, assisted in the repairs to this two-storey structure, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 141 A.D. We now follow the ancient way that climbs to the acropolis behind the theater. This twisting stone road takes us step by step into the past. Only the walls remain of the 315-meter-high citadel that stands atop the acropolis. The heroon and palace of Pericle, magnificent remnants of a lost civilization, stand directly below the acropolis. From this vantage point on the southern slopes of Mt Tocak, the entire ancient city, the twenty-kilometer-long beach stretching all the way to Cape Gelidonya, and the town of Finike (Phoenikos), once Limyra’s port, can be seen. Finike, now a major center of tourism as well as an orange-growing region, once served Limyra with its citadel and its harbor, the Gökliman (literally ‘Blue Port’), which provided a safe haven for ships. Another interesting feature of Limyra is its rock tombs, numbering close to five hundred and scattered over five principal areas. No other necropolis in any Lycian city is so strung out. Necropolis 1 is situated along the crest of the Arykanda Valley on the Finike-Elmalı road. These seven majestic rock tombs carved into a steep slope about ten kilometers from Limyra are reminiscent of a string of eagle’s nests. Necropolis 2 and Necropolis 3 are located on either side of the city at its eastern and western gates. With its extremely large number of rock tombs, Necropolis 2 is one of the most extensive such areas in Limyra. The region offers travelers a visual feast in the many different examples it displays of the tomb tradition. Particularly noteworthy are the relief-carved tombs of the Sidarios and Tebursseli families. Directly east of the theater is perhaps the only sarcophagus in the ancient city, the famous monumental tomb of Katabura on whose western facade this Lycian aristocrat is depicted between two priests. The tombs, which continue in rows along the main road in the direction of the slopes, spread at intervals of a few kilometers all the way to Necropolis 5. The seat of a bishopric in later periods, the city sustained its existence in the annals of history as a religious symbol. Near the ancient settlement are a caravanserai from the Ottoman period and the tomb of Kafi Baba, considered to be one of the oldest Bektashi lodges. The renowned Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi, who visited the region in 1617, mentions Bektashis who dwelled here in a virtual paradise surrounded by lemon, orange and pomegranate trees. A series of bridges afforded circulation through the city, which is crisscrossed by rivers such as the Aykırıçay, the Göksu and the Alakır. The ancient bridge with 28 arches on the road to Hasyurt was an important point of passage linking Limyra with Korydalla and Rhodopolis. Its arches now partially buried under the earth, this aged bridge amidst the greenhouses and orange groves is still in use. Meanwhile, only the abutments of the small bridges to the south that link the town to Finike remain standing today.
Casting its play of shadows over the stones, the sun will soon sink below the horizon. And the ruins of Limyra, leaving behind yet another day on the slopes of the mountain where it leans wearily, will quietly make ready for night.