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Article and Photos: AKGÜN AKOVA
In the heart of Lycia
Anatolia can astonish even the most seasoned world traveler. Like the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia where the Hittites played as children, the Lycian sarcophagi washed by the waves of the Mediterranean are equally impressive.
‘Garden of the sun at the edge of the sea’ - so did the ancient Sumerians describe the Mediterranean coast. For the children of Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean was a sea of waves dancing with light, and the name ‘Lycia’ has always meant ‘Land of Light’. The Lycian civilization grew up on the Teke Peninsula, which stretches from today’s Dalaman River all the way to Antalya, including Fethiye, Kaş and Finike. Given that the Lycians were already there at the time of the Trojan War, they reached Anatolia in about 1200 B.C., enriching the history of Anatolia with the cities they founded. Like Tlos, Xanthos, Patara, Pınara, Myra, Olumpos, Arykanda and Sidyma, many of those cities have survived fires, looting and countless earthquakes down to our day. The Kekova region also has its share of ruins from this civilization. It was precisely here, at the spot I am going to describe, that their words were engraved on the waves. If a geologist were to step in here, he would tell us that when earthquakes dislodge islands from their foundations, cities are sometimes submerged under water. It is such sunken cities that are lapped by the Mediterranean’s turquoise waters at Kekova. The walls of the Lycian civilization gaze up at us here from below the water’s surface like words whispered in a lost fairytale castle.
The area known for short as Kekova in all the travel guides starts at the village of Üçağız and ends at Kekova Island. The ancient city of Simena and the ruins of Teimiussa at Üçağız have an effect like that of depth intoxication on those who come here for the first time. To see the Sunken City you need to rent a boat from either Üçağız or Kaleköy. If you rent one with a glass bottom, you’ll be able to see the walls, staircases and foundations of the city, even the amphorae. If you strain your imagination a little at the edge of the Sunken City, where diving and approaching the shore are strictly prohibited, you’ll be able to hear the Lycian legends told by the islands to the waves! Among the ruins of the Sunken City are also pools and a fishpond. Historians say that the fish caught here in Roman and later times were preserved in salt and sold. Today the Sunken City slumbers in the Mediterranean. Refracted by the water, the sun’s rays caress the stones of the city walls below the surface like an old friend.
A DIFFERENT MEDITERRANEAN AT SIMENA
When you disembark from the boat you boarded at Üçağız and climb the defense walls at Kaleköy, it means you are in the heart of Simena. You will see there whitewashed houses with red roofs, German primroses (aka Poison Primroses), islands and boats awash in the blue. Gaze on the panorama from Simena to the Mediterranean until your eyes turn blue; for taking in such a view is not always possible. Later, the loveliest of evenings will descend on Kekova as gold streams down on the sea from the sky above. The sight of the evening sun reflected on the water will so dazzle your eyes that the Blue Cruise boats anchored there will appear as black specks in a brilliant orange sea. The time has come when the sea will finally turn ‘cherry dark’, exactly as described by Homer.
‘If you ask the old folks when the people of this village settled here, they won’t be able to tell you. Kekova is a mystery and will probably always remain so.” So wrote Azra Erhat, author of the book Mavi Yolculuk (Blue Cruise) and inventor of the term in 1962. Built over the ancient city of Simena, Kaleköy is indeed a mystery that has mingled inextricably with the stones and the water. As you climb the stone steps leading up to the castle, little girls will accost you, eager to sell the laces, shawls and beads made by their mothers. When you look down once again on the Mediterranean from the castle battlements, time will stand still in the blue. Suddenly you feel as if you are going to live forever, as if you are never going to part from this earth. You seem to be transformed into a sunburst reflected on the surface of the water. Then, turning your head in the other direction, you see the Lycian sarcophagi down below. And death reminds you of himself from among the stones. “Forget me not, oh mortal one,” he warns. But light prevails, at that moment and always. If we overlook the wild storms on its open waters, then this sea has always bestowed the light of life on those who came to its shores.
AN ANCIENT THEATER WITHIN THE WALLS
Lycia’s smallest theater also lies in the waters at Kekova. A tiny theater by the standards of antiquity, it sat at most 300 people! Every time I climb the castle at Simena, I try to picture a play being performed here under the Milky Way and with the light of the moon sparkling on the Mediterranean’s waters. For a philosopher, this is the Mediterranean at its bluest and most pregnant with associations. Inevitably, anyone who spends the night at Simena will ask himself the meaning of life. As light conjures up a feast for the eyes from dawn to dusk at Kekova, the arm of any painter attempting to capture it on canvas will soon be worn out from mixing the colors.
Kekova crowns the shores of the Mediterranean all year round. See it one day after a winter rain. Striking the freshly washed stones, that brilliant light will create an extraordinary world. The waters will be churned up in the pupils of your eyes, and the deep, dark blue will spill over inside you. It is then that flying fish will leap through the air from the Lycian sarcophagus in the water. Time will rise up on its knees and the world will tremble. This tremor is the breath of Lycia, one of the magnificent civilizations of Anatolia, and everyone well-acquainted with these lands knows that its innumerable civilizations have given the breath of life to Anatolia for tens of thousands of years.