I was hoping that we would get to experience more of the Lycian Way, but after our mountain fiasco, we needed to pull way back and take it easy. We still got to explore some amazing places along this ancient trail and they captured me in a way nothing else on this trip has.
The Lycian Way, or Likya Yolu, is a 540km mountain trail extending through the ancient Lycian civilization from Fethiye to Antalya. Along many places on the route, you are literally walking through the ruins of cities – Patara, Myra, Xanthos and Olympos that are over 3000 years old. Lycian culture existed from 1250-546 BCE and was written about extensively by Herodotus in his histories.
Here are a few things I found fascinating about ancient Lycian culture:
- The Lycians were part of the first mother-goddess religion which originated in Anatolia (with the goddess Anat for you scholars) and spread from there.
- They took the names of their mothers rather than their fathers so family trees are matrilineal.
- They had their own language, only adopting Greek in the 3rd century.
- They have the first recorded example of a democracy – the Lycian Federation or Lycian League – long before the Greeks eventually claimed it for their own.
- St. Nicholas (You know, SANTA) is from Lycia. He was a bishop in Myra and you can still go and visit the church dedicated to him there.
- There are over 20 historical sites along the Lycian Way, some UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
These rock cut tombs are built into the cliffs all along the Lycian Way. All totaled, there are 1085 tombs still intact. They were chambers and held more than one body – often a family – and usually had a stone couch inside that would be piled with gifts and offerings (the Lycians had a deep reverence for their ancestors). They were creepy as all hell, especially at dusk, and I loved them.
Ancient Lycians believed that a winged siren-like creature carried the souls of the departed to heaven so tombs were built high into the cliffs around harbors.
One of the things that never failed to surprise me along the Lycian Way is how modern towns have established themselves around ancient sites. It’s almost as if you have a handful of blue jacks that are modern homes and businesses and a handful of red jacks that are ancient tombs, temples and ampitheaters and you just mix them up in your hand and toss them onto the ground and that looks like every single town from Fethiye to Antayla. One night, we were stumbling around Kas trying to find a place to do our laundry and, in a square, right in the middle of town, was the flipping biggest sarcophagus I have ever seen. It towered over our heads, all of 12 feet tall, 3000 years old and full of dead bodies and stuff. Just hanging out between the pide restuarant and the store selling purses.
Olympos was founded in the late 4th century BCE, served as a pirate stronghold for many years, was visited by Hadrian during its Roman occupation and boasts one of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen in my life. I cried when I first saw it. I don’t know that I have ever seen anything so beautiful.
Chimera or Yanartas (Turkish for flaming stone) is a series of small fires that leap out of the stones along the Lycian Way, right above the ruins of a temple of Hephaestas, Greek god of blacksmithing. Which is pretty much the coolest thing ever. It is said to be where Homer got the inspiration for the Chimera in the Illiad and it is freaking magical. In ancient times, sailors would use the flames for navigation. We visited only a couple of days after our mountain debacle so we were still a little traumatized going back into the rocks, but it was worth it.
So I have some deep truths to share about the Lycian Way. Things I am still trying to figure out and understand in my heart and in my brain.
First, it was incredible. As much as I felt drawn to Ephesus and Pamukkale, I have never been so moved by such beauty and such ancient history. I have never felt so pulled to a particular place that I knew next to nothing about. I think about it almost every day. I miss it on a molecular level – my soul longs to be back there.
Second, we’ve seen a ridiculous amount of awe-inspiring sites on this trip and I have a list of places that I would like to go back and visit someday because I loved them so much (Angkor, I’m looking at you). But Lycia feels different. It’s not that I have to go back because of how much I loved it (although I did).
I have to go back there because I have unfinished business with Lycia.
I have to go back because there is more I have to learn, more I have to experience, more I have to internalize. We started a steamy love affair, but I didn’t realize it until after we had left Turkey and now I am compelled to go back and let those ancient worn stones and magical blue sea seduce me more.
The scholar in me needs to go back to study the religion and the culture.
The writer in me needs to go back to capture the way the wind sounds moving across the stones, how the sun makes the sea swirl with dizzying reflections of light.
The traveler in me needs to go back to take up our hostel owner in Cirali on his offer to stay for a few months to help him work in the orchards picking oranges and pomegranates and painting his boat for tourist season.
The ecologist in me needs to go back to watch sea turtles hatch on Olympos beach in August and cheer them on with every fiber of my being as they make their harrowing journey to the sea.
The spiritualist in me needs to go back because something deep inside me shifted along that precious expanse of land and water and sky and I need to experience more.
Oh we are not done, Lycia. Not even close.