Photos by Jack A. Waldron
With Kos (ancient Antiphellus) as my base, I jumped on a dolmus (mini bus) that would take me 20 km north east to the small village of Yavu, which sits below the cliffs of ancient Cyaneae. From there, it is a 2 km trek up and around the backside of the mountain along a path that follows a dry river bed deep in a ravine. As you ascend, a plateau at the top begins to expand into a wide plain covered in tall thorny brush. A brush it turns out, that could even hide a massive ancient theater only meters away (pictured below).
On extremely hot days such as the one I chose to visit Cyaneae (though, the days in July don't vary much in this part of Turkey), there is a subconscious urge to hurry, climb as little as possible, finish quickly, and conserve water. Looking at the city plan drawn by Spratt's company in 1840 (pictured below), it becomes obvious that they spent many days surveying the site, as it is completely overgrown even today.
Sometimes I dream of the day when each ancient site in Turkey has a full staff of gardeners and excavators on site year round. So much of this city is completely inaccessible, that I almost feel cheated by the hand of mother nature. Still, will power and passion intact, I do my best to crawl through the thicket, while avoiding cisterns, snakes and scorpions, at which I am mostly successful.
As I approached the site from behind the theater, I became quite excited when I saw the polygonal/cyclopean outer walls that support the 25 rows and single diazoma of the cavea. The theater, which seats around 2,500, is of a more basic type when compared to most other mid-to-large size theaters, and I imagine that it served its function well with the most cost effective construction.
Dating the construction of the theater is somewhat precarious, as the larger-than-semi-circular design is of Hellenistic origin, whereas it has been argued that decorative styles found in and around the theater point to the Roman Imperial period. Lycian history expert Bayburtluoglu writes:
"I believe that the theater was constructed at the time of two Lycian Lyciarchs, Opramoas from Rhodiapolis and Jason from Kyaneia, who lived around the same time. Without going into any details, the architectural decorations within and around the theater permit us to say that it must date to the time of Antoninus Pius, after the earthquake of 141 AD." Bayburtluoglu (2004), p. 218.
I wanted to climb to the top of the theater, but the orchestra was completely overgrown with brush that sat atop a massive amount of rubble . . . , and it was scorching hot. No excuses, now I must someday return for those photos I didn't get . . . , including the Eastern Gate with the shield sculpture within its arched pediment!
A deep and deadly cistern is located just in front of the theater (pictured above). As most literature written about the site makes reference to the numerous cisterns throughout the city, I will attest to the need, due to the heat. People I talk with about tour cycling usually comment on the unbearable heat I subject myself to, however I must say, it is never an issue until the wheels slow to a snails pace or stop turning completely. The 50+ sunscreen I wear in combination with a breeze really takes the heat off.
Turning away from the theater to get a full view of the city walls atop the blanket of overgrown brush is hardly an incentive to jump right in (pictured above). However, there is a path that winds its way up the slope through the necropolis, which is home to what must be one of the largest collections of ornately decorated sarcophagi from the ancient world, and if not, then perhaps the largest collection of Lycian sarcophagi.
With magnificent lion head sculptures jutting out at the visitor from the lids of the sarcophagi, along with the quantity of such exquisitely decorated tombs, it is the necropolis in particular that gives great reward to those who venture off the beaten path to ancient cities.
The sarcophagi thus far catalogued mostly range from the 4C BC through to the 3-4C AD, or, early Hellenistic to Roman Imperial. There can be no doubt however, that the Lycian sculptural style carried through these periods and established a unique and powerful aesthetic to be considered.
Pictured above, a view of the theater on the lower acropolis taken from the main path through the necropolis that leads up to the western section of the city wall. It wasn't far past this point where the challenge to navigate around under and over the thorny brush begins.
With sarcophagi clinging to the southern precipice in the foreground, and Yavu village nestled below the cliff face of the city, the Kas/Finike road winds through the valley. At the elbow shaped bend (pictured above), there is a road that follows the ancient pathway to the harbor city of Teimiussa, which sits at a distance of approximately 6 km from Cyaneae.
Pictured above, the western section of the city wall can be seen above the sarcophagi. The holes beneath the lids are evidence left by the grave robbers and the lost treasures that were buried with the deceased.
Reaching the city western city wall felt like quite an accomplishment, and only needed to be breeched by a commonplace balancing act performed by anyone who has ever climbed over giant square-shaped blocks (pictured above). Good gripping shoes are not a requirement, however, they can be bone saving. After observing the stone blocks used for the city wall, it appears to be of a newer construction as opposed to an older, that might have used a polygonal/cyclopean type block, such as in the outer support walls of the theater, which really adds to the debate over the actual construction date of the theater. Were they still building with polygonal/cyclopean type block during the Roman Imperial period?
The view of the theater (middle right of photo above) and the distant sea over the mountains makes the climb to the top of the city wall well worth the effort. If one were to draw on a map a 20 km circumference around the city of Cyaneae, no less than 20 observable ancient sites could be located. And, perhaps one of those sites was home to a known oracle in ancient times. The famous Greek geographer and traveler Pausanias writes:
"Close to Cyaneae by Lycia, where there is an oracle of Apollon Thyrxeus, the water shows to him who looks into the spring all the things that he wants to behold." Pausanias Book 7.21.13
Now within the city walls, dicerning the shapes of buildings, their function and which decorative member belongs to which becomes a very difficult and time consuming task. It becomes very apparent that building members have been repurposed in the construction of other efforts, and that this occurred over the centuries until the final abandonment of the city sometime in or around the 14C AD.
Pictured above, not far into the city from the western fortification wall, an arch spans a deep subterranean structure that is most likely a cistern (pictured above). The further I went through the city the more disappointed I became, as the overgrowth is so thick that it keeps hidden most of what you come there to find. I took very few pictures within the city, though I know there are monuments and structures that are well worth finding. Unfortunately, I did not have an unlimited period of time, nor supply of water that would be required to find some of the structures I came to see. One of those structures that I failed to locate was the Trysa Heroon, while another was the Eastern Gate with a shield sculpture within its arched pediment.
Pictured above and below, having succeeded in finding my way through the city to the eastern wall, and straddling the top of a terraced section with eight feet down to my right and six feet down to left that ran along several deep arched cisterns, I was greeted by three frenzied partridges that nearly knocked me off my perch, and certainly put the fear of the underworld in me.
There are numerous finely ornamented building members in this area, though it is unclear from where or how they landed here. Were they part of the Library? The Heroon? This site requires more than one day to explore. I had already spent four hours going one way, and the return journey would be no less arduous.
With a site as difficult to access as this, I wasn't surprised to find evidence of treasure hunting underway. Just under the eastern wall I discovered this two meter deep exploratory pit (pictured above and below).
Looking down the slope from the exploratory hole there was a multi-roomed building (pictured below, with zoom). I can imagine that this building was present when the Spratt expedition explored the site in 1840, and may even be legible on the site map that was drawn at the time. There is another building in the lower right side of the upper photo.
Thirsty and tired, I made my way back through the ancient city to the main path that runs from the theater to the east and down into Yavu. Taking the viewpoint from the photos above, it seemed at the time that I could just head straight down the slope into the village, but with the overgrown brush, the heat, and any possible false decent, that would have most likely been a misguided decision.
Back in Yavu, I began to notice these small wooden huts or shacks (see photos below). If I had patrons, I would at this point propose a contest, that anyone who can tell me what these little shacks are used for, I would be glad to send the first five with the correct answer an ultra cool Bike Classical T-Shirt as a reward! Feel free to leave your best guesses in the comment section below.
Someday, I will return to Cyaneae. Surprisingly, I drove right past it only a few weeks ago on my way to Datcha (August 2017, yes, I am two years behind in my posts!), but couldn't inspire nor excite my travel partner into taking yet another detour away from the beach to yet another ancient site . . . , I shall return!
*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)