Cathie Draycott, one of our tour experts, brings us a description and her reflections on Myndos, a site we visit on some of our cruises in Caria and Ionia.
Myndos is the first stop on the Cruising to Ephesus trip, which travels along the coast from Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus, the capital of the famous Carian king Maussollos) north to Ephesus. (It is also the usual starting point of our Cruising the South-East Aegean tour, combining Turkish shore and Greek islands) After the busy port at Bodrum, or a site-packed journey coming from the other way, the pretty, sleepy little harbor of Myndos, modern Gümüşlük (‘silvery’) is a site for sore eyes.
This charming harbour itself with its row of cafés and restaurants lining the waterside is one reason to visit the place. The other reason to visit Myndos, and the reason it is on the itinerary is of course the archaeology. Some may wonder, however, why, as part of a site tour, they find themselves walking up what seems like a rather ordinary country path, with no sign of anything to see, so to speak. The site is an intriguing example for the vast majority of the ‘archaeological sites’ in the world, which remain largely hidden from view, still scattered on the ground, or under it. Unlike Ephesus and other settlements that have been turned into archaeological parks, with plenty of still standing or reconstructed remains, Myndos has until recently remained relatively untouched, and there is very little which is still evident of the site. In fact, Michael Metcalfe says that when he first visited the site in the 1990s, there were more remains than there are now. Once a modestly prosperous seaside town, which flourished from at least the 4th century BC and possibly earlier through to the early Byzantine period (c. 7th century AD), the cut stones from its various structures have been continuously reused, first within the Roman and Byzantine phases of the town, and then by more recent villagers, who have incorporated them in the structures of the village that skirts the site today.
Along the seemingly inconsequential path, one can see parts of columns half buried in the soil and used in the construction of the low stone walls that line it. One of the few standing remains lies along this path, a quick hop over the wall: a late Roman/early Byzantine church, which shows perfectly the incorporation of generations of spolia (the stonework from older buildings) in its fabric. An archaeological team from Uludağ (“Great Mountain”) University – a university in Bursa, further north – has started exploration of the site and has conducted a ‘sounding’ (small excavation) in the building, which uncovered some ceramics suggesting a 5th century AD date (though I’ve also heard 6th century from other archaeologists). A more ancient altar was also found, leading the excavators to believe that the church was constructed on top of an earlier temple. No Ephesus, but this church provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore in romantic seclusion an ancient structure in a relatively ‘raw’ archaeological state.
The Uluda? University team has also partly excavated a Roman bathhouse further up the path, and geophysical survey of the site has revealed a theatre in the hillside, which may be uncovered in years to come. They have most recently been excavating the little island – Tavsan Adas? – visible in the photo looking down to the harbor, above. There, the rabbits (the name means “Rabbit Island”) have been rather displaced by archaeological exploration, and remains of the later Roman, Byzantine and Selçuk periods have been found. A report in the English language daily newspaper, Hürriyet Daily News, provides some insight into the finds and the plans of the team to develop the cultural tourism potential of Myndos.
Other structures of interest on the site, which also await excavation, include the base of a temple in the middle of the field to the left of the path, inhabited by the occasional cow. When the vegetation is manageable, a visit is worthwhile. Hewn from the natural rock, it shows traces here and there of the architecture that once stood atop it. The ‘cow field’ would once have been downtown Myndos, housing, apart from this temple, other public buildings and amenities. Among these, the temple itself would probably have been visible from the sea – important for a seaside town which would have attracted a range of seafaring visitors. The town is said to have been built by the king Maussollos in the 4th century BC, during a great period of urbanization in the area, and one suspects that like Halicarnassus, Myndos too was designed to enhance access to, and possibly control of, the sea hereabouts, not least as the site controls the straits between the Anatolian mainland and the adjacent islands of Kos and Kalymnos.
On the very top of the hill overlooking both the area of the field on the one side and the harbour on the other, there is a curious structure which continues to perplex all of us: the so-called Lelegian Wall. The remains of this massive wall run right down the middle of the hill, in a place which seems ill-suited to defense of the site. and its masonry style – giant irregular ‘polygonal’ blocks – best recalls Bronze Age structures. The term ‘Lelegian’ links it with a legendary people who lived in this region before it was, according to Greek authors such as Herodotus, settled by Dorians from Greek Troezen sometime in the early first millennium BC. A sharp eye will spot the term, or a modern Turkish derivative of it, used in advertising for local businesses. It was the Lelegian towns that Maussollos is said to have consolidated in the founding of ‘new Myndos’ (as opposed to ‘old Myndos’ founded by the Dorians, thought to lie on a nearby mountaintop). The early history of these settlements is very difficult to unpick from the tales embedded in later traditions, which often arose or were ‘hardened’ in periods of political turmoil, much as histories are used now to effect political claims through cultural patrimony.
At any rate, the so-called Lelegian Wall at Myndos is quite distinct from the circular buildings found at other ‘Lelegian’ sites on hills through the peninsula, and although it resembles the huge polygonal masonry walls from some Greek Bronze Age sites, it may not even be that old. The other walls of the site, which are scant now, are more happily dated as least in their first phases to the 4th century BC – possibly to Maussollos’ foundation – and do not seem to have any connection to it. Excavation might help here, but so far this particular mystery of Myndos has resisted attempts to solve it.
A leisurely visit to the spoliated church, the cow field temple and up to the peak, where apart from the wall, one can get a fine view of the harbour below, takes about two hours. Starting late in the day to avoid the scorching heat means that one returns to ‘civilisation’ (aka the harbour) in the early evening. Of the many cafés lining the waterside, one near the tiny beach has adorned its pergola with a multitude of hanging pierced gourd lamps, which in the early evening light forms another kind of welcome site. For those who need more substantial sustenance, there are also some excellent fish tavernas…