"Cruising the Lycian Shore" is our first cruise in Turkey since October 2019, On this occasion, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a kind of travel diary. Every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
A long and early crossing has taken us back to the coast of Central Lycia. We spent much of the morning in a particularly beautiful cove, surrounded by blue water, rocky islets and the maquis-covered limestone shores of the mainland.
In the afternoon we set out for another inland excursion, a triple visit to the ancient city of Myra (modern Demre), once a major centre of population in these parts. I call it a triple visit because we went to three separate sites within the general area of Myra. The city appears to have been very large in Roman and Early Byzantine times, but most of it is hidden under immense layers of river sediment - material for future excavations.
The first, in the heart of the modern town, is the Church of Saint Nicholas. As you might remember from Day 3 of this diary, the region is actually associated with two separate saints of this name, one being the Nicholas of Myra who has morphed into the Santa Claus of Western tradition, the other being Saint Nicholas of Sion, perhaps better known among Eastern Christians. It is likely that folk memory had merged the two of them by the Middle Ages. The church is a large and confusing complex, its origins perhaps go as far back as the sixth century, but with major additions in the eleventh or twelfth, and with a rather unsympathetic Russian-funded restoration in the nineteenth. Still, it is a fascinating place to see, and especially the original Byzantine inlaid floors are marvellous. There's also a broken sarcophagus that is believed to have held the relics of the saint, before they were abducted to Bari in Italy in 1087.
Next, we went to the northern outskirts of the city, to an area just below the steep slopes of the ancient city's acropolis or citadel. Here, we admired two equally impressive but functionally unrelated monuments. The first is the "Harbour Necropolis", a vast jumble of rock-cut tombs carved into the slopes of the acropolis. It's probably one of the most photographed sights in the region, a beehive of Lycian facade tombs, probably mostly of the fifth and fourth centuries BC. All of them have stone-carved facades cut from the living rock and imitating to considerable detail wooden architecture that may represent the dwellings of Lycian nobles of the age. These tombs are quintessentially Lycian, an original invention of the region, although some incorporate elements borrowed from elsewhere, especially relief carving showing warriors, banquets and athletes (et cetera), clearly inspired by Greek funerary art.
Next to the necropolis is the famous theatre of Myra, a Roman structure of huge dimensions - it had room for an audience of at least 12,000 spectators, supported by a complex system of vaults. The massive edifice with its still substantially preserved ornate stage structure is a lone witness to just how grand and wealthy Roman Myra must have been - but for the moment it stands alone as such.
Finally, we returned to the shore and to Andriake, the harbour town of Myra. Here, we walked along a lagoon (with flamingoes!) to have a look at the huge horreum or storehouse erected during the reign of Hadrian. I remember it from earlier visits as one of the best-preserved ruins of its kind in the entire Roman Empire. Recently it has been re-roofed and transformed into a modern museum dedicated to 'Lycian civilisation' - a fitting visit to complete our tour of Myra.
Back on the boat, we had one more card up our sleeve: the so-called 'submerged city' of Kekova (it's really an abandoned coastal settlement of Byzantine date). We cruised alongside the various rock-cut foundations, walls, piers, stairways and so on for half an hour or so, treating them as a little riddle. A quiet night awaits us, and tomorrow we'll continue our exploration of Central Lycia...
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