Ancient Myndos

Shrine to Leto, detail

Another glorious sunny and breezy day here in Gumusluk (Silver Place – so named either because of the 16th century silver mines, long gone, or the beautiful silver light on the water when the moon is full). After a very nice Turkish breakfast spread of fried egg on bread, roasted peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, and three cheeses, I hopped on my bike in search of the remains of ancient Myndos, the city on whose foundations the modern day village sits. At breakfast, Seray had told me where to look for the ruins of Myndos, mostly located around the bay past Rabbit island, a small islet dividing the bay into two sections.

I locked my bike to a pole down on the beach and walked to the last restaurant, where I had been told there would be a path leading past the remains of an ancient hamam. Walking along this stony path, I passed by fields of korek and could see more along the hilltops in the distance. Here these things are everywhere. I did find the ruins, as promised, but it was impossible to tell what the building had been. Mostly now it is a support for vines and other luxuriant vegetation.

I walked back down to the beach again and along a small path parallel to the shore towards the tip of the peninsula. Several cows were grazing on the rocky beach. One looked at me a bit menacingly, so, rather than walk by it, I clambered a bit farther up the hill to pass it by. At the tip of the peninsula some ruined structures were protected by a rusted fence; again, they were too destroyed to be able to discern what they had been. In the water between the peninsula and Rabbit Island are lots of underwater ruined stone structures. One, on whose roof I was standing, is the ancient port office. Walking back I was assailed by many flies generated by the cow dung lying around the beach.

I then walked along another path perpendicular to the water, crossing the peninsula. On the far side, in a small bay, other underwater ruins could be seen close to the shore. These are ancient government buildings. Walking along this path, the flies and bees became unbearable buzzing around my head. Possibly because my hair is blond, and the flowers in this area are yellow, the insects were attracted to my head and I was worried that one would get caught in my hair and sting me so I beat a hasty retreat. When I arrived sweating back at the beach, I put my black sweater over my head to hide my hair and that seemed to help get rid of most of the flies. I enjoyed two cups of Turkish tea in the municipal teahouse waterside then rode back to the Academy.

I had been musing about a small installation in the disused cistern so decided that there was no time like the present to try it out. I brought along 10 korek heads and 10 circular discs cut out of styrofoam, each with a small hole in the centre through which I was intending to put the korek stalk. I had imagined floating ten of these Styrofoam discs with koreks and lit candles atop on the surface of the water. However, when I got to the cistern, there was quite a stiff breeze blowing and the candles refused to stay lit. So, I simply launched the plants on their Styrofoam pads from the stone steps and allowed the breeze to blow them whither it willed. Unfortunately, none of the photos turned out.

This afternoon a crew from Turkish TV and a national newspaper came to interview the personnel at the Academy, drawn no doubt by the presence of Latife Tekin, one of the Academy’s founders and also one of Turkey’s most famous novelists. I had a brief interview with the reporter, with Ilknur translating for me. Then we spent quite a bit of time posing for photographs on the grounds and in the art studios.

Tonight’s installation represents a further evolution on the theme I have been pursuing. Rather than using a triangular composition, I arranged the red flowers in their glasses in the shape of a circle, with candles in between each one. On the floor in front of the wooden table I set up a small altarpiece, with my mannequin hands, crepe paper ribbons, a wine glass half full, all arranged on one of the beautiful table cloths I purchased at the market. To the side of this altar I placed a golden mortar and pestle, full of dried leaves, resting on a golden plate, balanced on a stone brick.

For all you history buffs out there, here is a brief history of Gumusluk retrieved from the net:

Gümüslük is the site of the ancient city of Myndus, which was built around a deep anchorage, well-protected from the prevailing wind on this otherwise exposed stretch of coast. A further strategic advantage of the site was that the entrance to the harbour is concealed by the land, and cannot easily be seen from the sea.

However, the site of the original Lelegian town of Myndus was not here but further inland. It dates back to the 5th century BC or earlier. This was a much smaller affair, paying only one-twelfth of a talent in the Delian Confederacy, and is known as Palaimyndos or Old Myndus. The ruins of this earlier city can be found on the hilltop at Bozdag about two miles (3.2km) to the south east of Gümüslük. (Bozdag can be seen above the Gümüslük Academy). Nothing survives other than a ring-wall and the foundations of a large tower on the summit; but the sherds reveal occupation from prehistoric times.

The new city was founded by Mausolus (ruled 377BC – 353BC, builder of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (Bodrum), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). It was on a much more ambitious scale than the earlier settlement. Whist Myndos would never rival Halicarnassus, it was nevertheless one of the main cities of the peninsula. It had a well-sheltered harbour and city walls over two miles long. The main problem was that there were insufficient inhabitants to make it viable. The Lelegian inhabitants of the peninsula had mostly been transplanted to Halicarnassus, capital of Caria, and for a long while Myndus was severely under-populated, and much of the space inside the walls was unoccupied. It is said that the philosopher Diogenes once visited Myndus, and observing that the gates were large but the city small, advised the Myndians to keep their gates closed, or their city would be running away.

Alexander the Great made an attempt to capture Myndos in 334BC as his armies marched across Anatolia and on towards India. He laid a siege to Halicarnassus, and inspected the fortifications of Myndos to find out whether or not it was an easy target. He was even encouraged by some Myndians who advised him to approach the city at night time. Alexander did not bring his catapults or attack stairs towers, but ordered his soldiers to dig under of the main towers. The tower collapsed but did not weaken the walls, and the people of Myndos, supported by the Persian navy, fought gallantly.  Alexander stopped the siege and turned his attention to Halicarnassus which Persians defended for nearly a year till the murder of Orontobates, the Persian satrap. …

Relatively little remains of ancient Myndus. Rock-cut stairways and house-foundations may be seen on the hillside, but virtually all the ruins seen in the early nineteenth century, including a theatre and stadium, have totally disappeared; all that survives is a ruined basilica (now a cultural centre named Iklesia) and, at the highest point of the peninsula, what may have been a church. There are, however, numerous ancient stones to be seen in and around the village, and it is quite possible that the masonry from these buildings has been reused and now forms part of the foundations and buildings of the modern village.  At the school about a mile inland there are some column capitals and Roman mosaics.

Although there are no major structures remaining it is still possible to see sections of mosaics on the shore & beneath the water of the entrance to the harbour and on the spit of land to the north west of the harbour. Other features are visible just below the water; there are the remains of a tower, and more structures are visible in the north-western bay.

In the 3rd century BC Myndus was mostly in the hands of the Egyptian Ptolemies, and was still so in 197BC when the Rhodians, as friends of Egypt, undertook to protect her ‘allies’ against Antiochus III of Syria, and gave their freedom to Myndus and others. It was after this, apparently, that the Myndians first began to issue their own coinage. There are a number of historical references to an active Jewish community in the town around 139BC. The city was for a short while held by the rebel Aristonicus about 131BC, and after the murder of Julius Caesar in 43BC, Cassius (one of the main conspirators) sheltered his fleet there; the city was later punished by Mark Anthony. After the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, Mark Antony gave Myndus to the Rhodians, but she was soon taken away again owing to the excessive harshness of their rule. At around this time it is said that Anthony and Cleopatra dropped anchor in the harbour as they travelled from Egypt to Rome.

The city wall was originally some 3.5 km long. The fortification-wall on the mainland may be followed for its whole length, and is best preserved on the south-east, the most vulnerable side, where it is strengthened with frequent towers. It is about 9 feet (2.74m) thick and constructed in part at least of the green granite which was also used for the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The quarries from which this stone was cut may be seen close to the shore at Koyunbaba, about two miles to the north.

The fortifications also included the peninsula; a hundred years ago the wall could be traced all round, but this has now disappeared. There remains, however, another wall running from north to south up the spine of the hill. It has the same thickness as the mainland wall, but is built of larger blocks less regularly fitted. It has been called ‘the Lelegian wall’, but this name stems from the old belief that Lelegian Myndus stood on this site; in fact the masonry is quite unlike that of the genuine Lelegian towns. This wall has always been something of a puzzle. As it stands, it appears meaningless; with the peninsula walled all round, what could be the point of dividing the interior down the middle with a wall of this solidity? It makes sense only as a continuation of just such a main-land wall as in fact exists, and may be the beginning of an earlier fortification system which was almost immediately abandoned in favour of a wall encircling the whole peninsula.

See pictures here.

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