Turkey 2008 I: Side, Kekova, Demre, Myra

In June 2008 I spent three weeks on the South Mediterranean coast of Turkey based at Side, an ancient town, beach resort and the love playground, in history, of Anthony and Cleopatra. The Turks are famous, or notorious, as masterful merchants and hagglers – one cannot walk down any street in this town without being accosted from all sides by persons trying to sell every conceivable consumable.

This is the main drag down to the harbour; many a time I zoomed down here on  my rickety rental bike, brakes shreaking as I narrowly missed running into yet another oblivious tourist. It is a mystery to me how it is that people become so catatonic on holidays …

At night the place really comes alive; tourists arrive in swarms, herds, masses – and crowd the narrow streets of the town until the early hours of the morning. While there were many very beautiful things for sale, I found the sheer numbers of everything to be overwhelming and paralyzing and essentially not very conducive to purchasing any one thing. Take, for example, this representative boutique:

Not a space to breathe anywhere.

The back streets were much easier, and more pleasant often, to navigate. I had a fantastic apartment in a site called Athena Evleri; two bedrooms, two balconies, two bathrooms on two levels – called a Dublex. The apartment overlooked the pool and gardens, the latter with a huge and beautiful wisteria tree.

The pool was fantastic, especially on those mornings when it was 38 degrees by 6:30 am.

This particular complex has mostly Norwegian owners; two couples who were there when I was come from the same part of Norway that my mother’s family hails from, Trondheim.

From the front door of my apartment, one can see rows and rows of holiday apartments, all with solar heating panels on their roofs. From the apartment to the town beach was a quick zip on my bike, about 10 or 15 minutes. Here one can rent an umbrella and lounge chair for 3.5 YTL a day (about $2.25). People in the tourist industry here work like slaves, from 9 in the morning until midnight for the most part, with only a short break in the afternoon. Between 2 and 4 local men – waiters, bartenders, shopkeepers – descend on the beach to swim, play ball and sunbathe.

The temperature during the time I was here ranged from a low of about 35 up to around 50. The sand on the beach was scorching, impossible to walk on with bare feet. The umbrella was a necessity for me; while I love the sun and the warmth, I can’t take it beating down on me for hours on end.

Here’s a view looking down the town beach with Sorgun Forest in the background.

Very few local women are on view here; sometimes, though, in the middle of the afternoon for an hour or two women would bring their children down to play on the beach. Some, like this woman, were in full cover dress – must have been excruciating in 50 degree heat. Here’s my friend Ann Marie emerging like Aphrodite from the waves.

One of the ruins for which Side is famous is the Temple of Apollo, seen here at sunset, a pilgrimage destination for photographers.

The temple of Apollo is right next to the harbour; the sunsets here are beautiful.

The temple pediment has beautiful carved heads, of Apollo, Aphodite and lions.

While I was in Turkey, I was conducting research for my art project entitled Ruination. This entailed travelling to various ancient sites, and photographing their ruined structures. One such trip was to Kekova, Demre and Myra, further west along the Mediterranean coast from Side.

The landscape on the road from Antalya to Kekova is dry, dry, dry with lots of tiny pine trees and scrub. About 14 of us travelled in a minibus, leaving Side at 5:15 in the morning. We stopped at the Sorbet Surprise just outside Antalya for breakfast; here one would have sworn we were in Russia; all the signs were in Russian, the music was Russian, the Turkish salespeople spoke Russian – madly loud, with cowbells (?) being rung every two minutes – the noise was enough to drive me out onto the street seeking shelter. Our driver, a big, burly man, confided in me that he had 4 wives, 8 children, and 15 girlfriends and that he hadn’t slept in 4 days … he also worked two jobs and ran a doner shop to keep this brood in business. I had visions of a flaming, fiery death on the Turkish highway as our minbus careened up hills and around corners on the highway to Kekova.

We did arrive safely in Kale, a tiny harbour town on the Med coast, on the way to see the ancient city on and underneath the island of Kekova. Kekova is a submerged port dating back to the 5th century bce, when Lycia was an important kingdom in this region. The Lycian capital was Xanthos, an hour west of Kekova, from where King Sarpedon, who fought in the Trojan Wars, originally came.

A Lycian necropolis, with chest-type tombs spread out along the coastline, lies at Teimiussa, near the present-day Ucagiz on the mainland across from Kekova.

In this neighbourhood tombs and sarcophagi are everywhere. Below is a picture of an ogival Lycian rock tomb in Kale (Ancient Simena).

The harbour and landscape here are beautiful; after our long journey along the windy highway we arrived in one piece at the harbour where we boarded a wooden tour boat to the island of Kekova.

Along the edge of Kekova, facing the mainland, lie the half-submerged remains of a Lycian sunken city.

Here are the remains of buildings and walls beneath the water and staircases leading to nowhere.

Kekova really is like a dreamscape … after a boat ride, a swim in the ocean, then onto the minibus once again and on the road to Demre, whose claim to fame is the church of jolly old St. Nicholas.

The Church of St Nicholas, a Christian saint and Bishop of Myra, in Demre was pretty much a non-event. Not much of the original church actually remains, although there are some beautiful frescoes still evident on the walls and ceiling.

Inside the church I saw a small cat who appeared to be praying to ol’ St Nick.

He appeared to be a very sentient beast …

Another very fascinating site was the temple and rock tombs of Myra

Many of the tombs have log cabin features carved into the rock, presumably reflecting the domestic architecture of the period. A few easily accessible ones have inscriptions in the Lycian language. Carvings above are mostly in poor repair but the overall effect of this jumble of the architecture of death is dramatic.

These are absolutely amazingly beautiful. Most of the tombs are from the 4th century bc, and many contain funeral scenes in relief, some scenes portraying the daily life of the deceased.

The Lycians seem to have held a belief that the souls of their dead would be transported from the tombs to the afterworld by a sort of winged siren-like creature, and so often placed their tombs along the coast or at the top of cliffs when they were not integrated into the liveable areas of the cities.

To see more pictures, click here.

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