I’ve been reading Classic Myths to Read Aloud by William F Russell to the kids. We were intrigued when we read the story of Bellerophon while we were in southwestern Turkey. Bellerophon freed the world of the Chimera, that horrible fire breathing beast, part goat, part lion, part serpent. For the task Bellerophon rode Pegasus. Later, in attempt to fly up to Olympus, he again rode Pegasus but was struck down from the horse by one of Zeus’ lightening bolts. After Bellerophon’s fall Pegasus continued to fly up into the heavens and became a constellation. All of this story occurred in the kingdom of Lycia.
Honestly, I didn’t know there had been a kingdom of Lycia until we got to Turkey. It was thousands of years ago in southwestern Turkey. The Lycians had a written language much like Greek but with a few extra characters. They worshiped the same gods and goddesses as the Greeks, but they sided with Troy during the Trojan war. Bellerophon was part of this Lycian contingent to Troy. Later the Lycians were overtaken by Alexander the Great, were subjugated by the Roman empire, and their cities overbuilt by Byzantines and then Ottomans. They had a multitiude of cities including Xanthos, Letoon, Kekova, Patara, and Tlos.
Like the Greeks the Lycians had a representative government, and the first senate building in the world is in Patara. The senate building is currently under reconstruction. The rumor is that when rebuilt the UN will hold a conference there. Within the ruins of Patara the market place, main road, and theater remain in addition to the senate building. Multiple blocks with Lycian writing remain in the ruins. Patara was a seaport. Eventually, the port filled in with marsh, and the inhabitants died off from the malaria that followed. The remaining town is a couple of kilometers inland but is visited now as much for the 11 km long sandy beach as for the ruins.
Up into the mountains from Patara is Tlos. This was a city known for excesses. There, too, was a theater built during the Roman era of Lycia. This summer archeologists from Istanbul have been excavating the theater. The stage building was freed of a multitude of large limestone blocks that had fallen from the theater’s walls. Several large statues of various rulers were discovered. Unfortunately, the statues had been moved to the museum in Fethiye the morning before we visited. Still we were able to explore the grounds of the excavation. Our guide, Altay, is friends with the archeologists, and we were allowed to sneak past the cordon and sit inside the excavation. Altay discussed how the archeologists went about their work, waking up early in the morning to dig, then moving inside in the heat of the afternoon to carefully document and catalogue the day’s finds. He described how the theater would have been used, for art, politics and spectator sports. He discussed the architecture of theaters in ancient times, how the hillsides were used to support the structure, how the building allowed view of the stage as well as the town and valley below, and how the stone seats were carved out to allow the sound from the stage to travel more evenly throughout the theater. We were able to imagine the sights and sounds of an ancient play.
Tlos has ruins of two separate Roman baths. There’s so much water coming down from the mountains in this area it was the perfect place for baths. The baths provided a meeting place for all the members of society. According to Altay, even slaves were provided the opportunity to bathe. In addition to the theater, and the baths, ruins of the arena and market place are still visible. Additionally, the only temple to Cronos, father of Zeus, is in Tlos. On top of the Roman era ruins the Christians built their city. They used reclaimed blocks of limestone adding stones on top as needed. Some of the reclaimed blocks were inscribed in Greek or Lycian but the inscription was not important. They were placed upside or sideways whichever way fit best in the new construction.
Our real goal in Tlos was to explore the Tomb of Bellerophon. The Lycians left many tombs carved into the hillsides of the region. Tlos was no exception. This tomb was special for us as it had a relief of Bellerophon riding Pegasus on the wall of the entrance. The tomb was not easy to get to as it was built on a steep hillside. We scrambled down a narrow path and climbed up a wooden ladder nailed into the rock wall to reach. In addition to Bellerophon and Pegasus there were reliefs of lions and dogs guarding the tomb. Altay pointed out the relief of lions over the tomb he had exposed by pulling away brush earlier this summer. He was still quite excited by his discovery.
At the end of our day we climbed the hill to reach the top of an Ottoman fort. We walked up an road that had been built by the Ottomans as well. We knew there must be layers of Byzantine, Roman, and Lycian artifacts underneath. When we reached the top of the fort we watched as the sun set over a beautiful valley and the mountains behind us turned pink in the evening light. The ruins of the town of Tlos glowed as well. The stars began to come out. We still haven’t figured out which ones make up Pegasus.