ARTICLE - PHOTO ERSIN DEMIREL
Lion of the Taurus
Land of swift horses and heroic warriors, Cibyra tells a centuries-old story.
As the sun rose, the ancient steps where I was sitting were gradually bathed in light. Below, the placid lake and fields of purple and white opium poppies were only just beginning to come to life. I was ruminating about the past of this ancient city, steeped in centuries of silence. How many plays had been staged at its theater? How many hard bargains driven on its agora? How many topics heatedly debated in the odeum? But Cibyra, having played its final role on the stage of history, lies shrouded today in proud silence.
A CULTURAL MOSAIC
Situated in the region known in ancient geography as ‘Cabalis’, the city of Cibyra bears traces of the Phrygian, Pisidian, Lycian and Carian cultures. It is thought to have been founded in the 3rd century B.C. by Pisidian colonists who came from the Milas region. According to the historian Strabo, the Cibyrates, descendants of the Lydians, eventually formed a tetrapolis, or federation of four cities, with Balbura, Boubon and Oenanda. The first city in Anatolia to establish such a multi-urban federation, Cibyra was represented in the league by two votes to each of the other cities’ one. Growing rich in time under a series of tyrants, Cibyra acquired a large army as its population swelled to close on two-hundred thousand. The Pisidian and Lydian languages as well as Greek were spoken in this cultural mosaic of a city, which was also famous for its horses and mounted warriors. Despite staunch resistance by the tyrant Moagetes, Cibyra was forced by the Roman Consul Manlius Vulso to pay taxes in 189 B.C. In 23 A.D. an earthquake leveled the city, which was rebuilt with the help of Tiberius and entered a new era, having been renamed Caesarea Cibyra in his honor. The history books write that during this time Cibyra was one of the largest urban centers in Asia and its regional governor the arbiter of justice. Whether Cibyra was or was not a Lycian city is still hotly debated by archaeologists. Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu, however, asserts that when one of Sulla’s lieutenants, Murena, annexed the Cibyrates region to the Lycian League in
82 A.D. Cibyra was represented in the Lycian assembly by two votes. The city, whose golden age began to wane following attacks by the Goths in the 3rd century A.D., began slowly to abandon its role in history in the wake of Byzantine settlement in the 6th century A.D.
IN THE SHADOW
OF THE LION
Located in the township of Gölhisar, 107 km from Burdur, the ancient city of Cibyra can be reached by an asphalt road. As a result of erosion and earthquakes, it is now little more than a heap of ruins dispersed over the uneven terrain. We are met here by limestone gravestones scattered over the arid grey soil peculiar to the region. Empty sarcophagi, sarcophagus lids and cut stones that have slid down from the hillsides lie strewn about at random. Negotiating a roadway lined on either side with gravestones of various types, we enter the ‘stadium’, which is still in quite good condition—twenty rows of seats on the western side and opposite them a few steps in ruins. Every year a festival is organized at the stadium, some of whose seats have either shifted place or are buried under ground. Looking to the west from the top step, one can easily see over how broad an area the city once spread. Cibyra, which had a ‘resting lion’ as its emblem, boasts two agoras or marketplaces. An inscription on the avenue strewn with collapsed columns alongside the larger of the two agoras states that ‘the market place was built by the leather makers and ironsmiths’, and that merchants arriving here could not sell their goods without first paying dues. Opposite the agora, the ancient theater is one of Anatolia’s largest with fifty rows of seats. Yet another magnificent structure not far from the theater is the odeum, where concerts were given. Only a few steps however are still in evidence today at the odeum, whose facade nevertheless remains standing. Among the other important buildings here are the public bath, a portion of which survives, and the ancient aqueduct that brought water to the city. Hollowed out through massive blocks of rock, its cut stones now lie scattered about the environs. The blocks of rock that constituted the aqueduct give the appearance of a giant vase from which trees and wild flowers issue like springs. A few gravestones and a sarcophagus lid in the vicinity of the aqueduct capture our attention as well. And the site guard informs us that the hollowed out areas directly adjacent to the gravestones were ceramic workshops, the Cibyrates having been skilled potters as well as leather makers and ironsmiths. Crossing a bridge paved with ancient stones in the grey soil of the valley, we make our way back to the city’s main entrance. A few reliefs, statues and lion motifs unearthed in the Cibyra excavations are on exhibit in the township park and at the Burdur Museum.
The next day we pay a visit to the sister cities that in a sense shared Cibyra’s fate. First, Boubon 22 km to the south. We arrive by a lovely road through the forest alongside İbecik Dam, on a tributary of the Dalaman river. At Dikmentepe, just outside the village of İbecik, the most important sights to be seen are an amphitheater, most of whose steps are now buried under ground, a few monuments with inscriptions, and the building known as the Sebasteion. But we can see only the footprints of the statues on the pedestals here, where bronze sculptures of the noble Commodus and Severus families were once prominently displayed. Eleven of the twelve statues that once stood here were smuggled abroad, the property now of the J. Paul Getty Museum and private collections. The single remaining statue, its head and one leg missing, was miraculously spared the smuggler’s hand and brought to the Burdur Museum.
We set out now for the city of Balbura near Altınyayla some 18 km further on. The highest above sea level of all the Lycian cities at 1500 meters, Balbura is known for its two theaters and its lion-lidded sarcophagi. Little remains today however of this ancient settlement, which is perched on a steep slope. The general vicinity of Cibyra boasts a large number of rock reliefs. Those at Akyaka, above the village of Kozağacı, consist of seventeen scenes, depicting, among others, the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele flanked by two warriors with their faces turned towards her. Slightly beyond the reliefs, at Kırkpınar on the road to the Dirmil highlands, stands an interesting motif of twelve women holding hands. And at Kocataş in the village of Yuvalak, yet more reliefs can be seen, smaller and more worn than those at Kozağaç. Meanwhile a relief consisting of a goddess and animal figures at the village of Çaltepe has been defaced. All these reliefs point to a possible connection between the name Cibyra and the mother goddess Cybele and to the city’s importance for horsebreeding.
Cibyra, land of swift horses and heroic warriors... The stone figures seem to come to life when you touch them, as if they have suddenly been whisked back to their own time. Home to civilization for thousands of years, the plains at the foot of the Western Taurus will surely continue to preserve the ‘lion’ of Cibyra, melting pot of cultures, for a long time to come.