On a hot summer’s day in Mid June, we headed off into the countryside to explore the ruins of Xanthos. It is strategically placed upon a hilltop, rewarding us with fantastic views, especially during the bright, leafy months of early summer.
Driving to the carpark which was on the other side of the hill, we parked, then brought our ticket. Then proceeded to walk to the first part of the ruins. At the beginning of our walk, we were fortunate enough to have a chat, albeit a short one with an old-timer who has spent over 25 years hanging out at this ancient site talking to people who will give their time to listen to him. He became our unofficial guide and at times, switched between a few different languages. It made the tour quite interesting and entertaining. One which we were very grateful to experience.
Below is a quick summary of the violent history of Xanthos, which is now a UNESCO site.
The Xanthosians twice demonstrated the fierce independence of the Lycian people when they chose to commit mass suicide rather than submit to invading forces. The Xanthosian men set fire to their women, children, slaves and treasure upon the Acropolis before making their final doomed attack upon the invading Persians. Xanthos was later repopulated, but the same gruesome story repeated itself in 42 BC when Brutus struck the city during the Roman civil wars to recruit troops and raise money. The below poem was found on a tablet in the Xanthos excavations, translated by Azra Erhat.
We made our houses graves
And our graves are homes to us
Our houses burned down
And our graves were looted
We climbed to the summits
We went deep into the earth
We were drenched in water
They came and got us
They burned and destroyed us
They plundered us
For the sake of our mothers,
And for the sake of our dead,
In the name of our honour,
And our freedom,
We, the people of this land,
Who sought mass suicide
We left a fire behind us,
Never to die out.
Brutus was shocked by the Lycians’ suicide and offered his soldiers a reward for each Xanthosian saved. Only 150 citizens were rescued. As with most of the world’s history, this story was to repeat itself. It seems to me we are destined to never learn from history. Which is disheartening on so many levels.
The Amphitheatre – A Roman-style theatre. More French parts are still being unearthed by a French Archaeology team.
What better way to get a ‘feel’ of a place and contemplate the history of what happened on the site of a lost city.
Standing at the top of the hill, we were also rewarded with a fantastic landscape view reminding us of the natural beauty of Turkey.
The famous Xanthian Obelisk (V century BC) is a giant slab of stone where the longest inscription in the Lycian language of 250 lines is carved.
The Roman Path – with Roman artefacts on either side of it.
The tombs carved into the hillside rock.
The Kilise Church – this is the only part of this whole site that is fenced. No doubt due to the threat of vandalism?.
The modern history of Xanthos Turkey began in 1842 with the appearing of the British traveller Charles Fellows. He spent a few months in the ruins of the city collecting the best-preserved statues and sculptures so now most of them can be seen in London’s British Museum. So, if you can’t make it to Turkey, you could visit the Museum in London to see a fraction of what once lay in an ancient site thousands of miles away. Though somehow that just doesn’t feel quite right, does it?
- Xanthos – UNESCO site
- The Xanthian Obelisk – YouTube Video