In the shadow of a luminous mountain

A mountain whose peaks are illuminated by the moon, a lake in its shadow, beautiful ancient cities on its slopes and tiny Aegean villages along the way are...

Lake Bafa and the Beşparmak (Five-Finger) Mountains harbor countless historic monuments. The diversity and the archaeological sites along the way are Aegean civilization’s gift to the world. Although they face a struggle for survival today, they live on thanks to the barrier of the Beşparmak Mountains and the breadth of the Büyük Menderes River (the Meander of antiquity).

Wherever you start from, you should time your departure so as to reach Bafa either very early in the morning or in the cool of evening. In fact, these are the best times for arriving at any place along the Aegean. While part of nature is just waking up at these hours, another part is going to sleep, and the light is so abundant as to leave nothing in shadow.

Some 150 kilometers south of Izmir between Söke and Milas, Latmos forms the northwestern corner of ancient Caria. The mountain rises immediately behind the sign for Lake Bafa on the Aydın-Milas road.

LAKE BAFA: A SOURCE  OF LIFE
A gulf in antiquity, Lake Bafa was later cut off from the sea by alluvion deposited by the Meander. The area was of great commercial importance in the period when it was a natural harbor, and the Carians are known to have exported honey and figs to Egypt and to have been quite expert in the production of wine. Although the growing of olives and livestock raising are being slowly abandoned today, they were important sources of livelihood in the region from antiquity until only recently. Southeast of the Büyük Menderes River delta and also known as ‘Çamiçı’ ('in the pines'), Lake Bafa lies in the foothills of the Beşparmak Mountains in Muğla province. This shallow lake, only 25 meters deep at its deepest point, has its origin in aboveground and underground waters and supports an abundance of wildlife. Lake Bafa is a primary habitat for water birds and its environs for birds of prey. While you can observe pelicans and herons on a simple turn around the lake, as you move away from its shores you will see predators such as hawks and eagles. The Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) is another bird you will see often - and should feel privileged indeed when you do - on Lake Bafa, which is a Natural Bird Watching Area. These birds, which come out especially around midday to hunt, are immediately distinguishable by their ruddy color.

WHERE ARE YOU FROM? I’M A ‘BAFALI’
Life in the villages of Kapkırı and Pınarcık along Lake Bafa is virtually synonymous with the lake. If you ask anybody from Kapıkırı where they’re from, they’ll say, “I’m a Bafalı, i.e., I’m from Bafa!” Since the lake is visible from everywhere in the village, including the village square, sharing their home with you offers the village folk a welcome supplement to the household income and you a unique opportunity to observe local life at close range. The villagers, who turn their houses into ‘pensions’ by renting out a room or two, vie with each other to help you out of the slightest difficulty as well as regaling you with their life stories. To taste the local dishes and partake of village life all you need do is to follow the signs along the only road that goes around the lake and turn off when you come to the one for Kapıkırı. The stop after Kapıkırı is the village of Pınarcık. This is also the starting point for a hike on which, if you don’t take a guide with you, you run the risk of either getting lost or returning without seeing the cave paintings.

HERAKLEIA: CITY ON THE LAKE
With its defense walls that follow the contours of the uneven terrain, the ancient city of Herakleia on the shores of the lake exhibits similarities with other major cities of  the Hellenistic period such as Pergamon and Assos. These walls, the better part of which are still standing today, are known to have measured a total of six and half kilometers in length and to have been punctuated by 65 observation towers. Pre-historic rock paintings, thought to be the oldest wall paintings in Anatolia, are scattered throughout the area along the walls.

IMMORTAL LOVE AT LATMOS
Legend has it that the shepherd Endymion, who produced spellbinding sounds with his flute all day long, was in love with the mood goddess Selene. Endymion played his flute to express the sadness he felt during the day when he was alone and his beloved was absent. The two lovers met in the mountain caves every night when the moon appeared. Every time she vanished and reappeared, Selene noticed how her shepherd-lover had aged, and she was distressed by the fact that he was a mortal while she was immortal. Wishing to change  the situation, the goddess implored the chief god Zeus that Endymion not get any older and that he fall into an immortal sleep with her in the cave. Zeus granted the Moon Goddess’s wish, and one moonlight night Endymion fell into an eternal sleep. Wrapped in each other’s arms, the two lovers would never again be separated for all time. Latmos for this reason is said to be the place the Moon loves most on Earth and where it shares its light most abundantly, turning the mountain peaks white with its illumination.

FIVE DEFT FINGERS
Meeting point of the sky and rain gods, the Beşparmak or ‘Five-Finger’ Mountains formed a protective shield for antiquity’s most magnificent harbor as well as providing a retreat for medieval saints. They also served as a refuge in time of war for ancient cities such as Herakleia, Iasos, Labranda, Miletus, and Euromos, all nestled in their foothills. The geological structure of the mountains, which loom like an enormous shadow, makes them easy to pick out from a distance. The north side of this rocky terrain consists of granite, the southern edges of crystalline limestone, and the south of Tertiary shale.

FROM LATMOS TO LABRANDA
Latmos, the name formerly given to the whole mountain range but more to the southern  portion today, was home to the Labrandians, a people of Zeus, god of the Double-Axe (labrys). Accessible by car but requiring careful driving, Labranda was the site of one of the leading oracles of antiquity. Founded on a mountain peak to escape Persian and Macedonian attacks, it was able to offer security to men of religion in particular. One of the most interesting among the methods of soothsaying used in the ancient city was a pool  with fish, the ruins of which can still be seen today. Decisions to go to war or remain at peace were made based on the movements of the fish in the pool.

REST STOP AT KARGICAK
A rest stop is in order on either your way up or your way down the mountain at Kargıcak, one of the oldest villages under the shadow of Latmos. After a brief chat with the villagers, you’ll realize that they don’t like and don’t consume any oil other than olive oil. These hospitable folk grouse about the dearth of visitors to their village in direct proportion to the number of cars that pass down the road without stopping.

Lake Bafa and the Beşparmak (Five-Finger) Mountains harbor countless historic monuments. The diversity and the archaeological sites along the way are Aegean civilization’s gift to the world. Although they face a struggle for survival today, they live on thanks to the barrier of the Beşparmak Mountains and the breadth of the Büyük Menderes River (the Meander of antiquity).

Wherever you start from, you should time your departure so as to reach Bafa either very early in the morning or in the cool of evening. In fact, these are the best times for arriving at any place along the Aegean. While part of nature is just waking up at these hours, another part is going to sleep, and the light is so abundant as to leave nothing in shadow.

Some 150 kilometers south of Izmir between Söke and Milas, Latmos forms the northwestern corner of ancient Caria. The mountain rises immediately behind the sign for Lake Bafa on the Aydın-Milas road.

FROM LABRANDA TO IASOS
If you leave Labranda behind and approach the shore, you may make the acquaintance of Iasos, one of the most important ports of antiquity. Although turning off at all the yellow signs for archaeological sites along the road will be time-consuming, Euromos too is a major must-see settlement.

In the water of Iasos’s western harbor a Byzantine Tower still stands as testimony to almost three thousand years of uninterrupted settlement here. Strabo says of Iasos: “There is a harbor and most of the people make their living from the sea, because fish are plentiful in the water but the land is very poor.” The sea has silted up in the interim so that Iasos has now become a peninsula, which lends a completely different air to the village of Kıyıkışlacık, situated more or less within Iasos and the ancient city. You can stay overnight in this tiny settlement which fishing boats slowly turn into a harbor at evening, and savor the sweet weariness of this journey you have made to a  towering mountain, the ancient cities in its foothills, a limpid lake and the Aegean’s charming little villages. You can decide whether to proceed north or south tomorrow and continue on your way confident that the Aegean is going to afford you pleasure beyond your wildest imaginings.