After Letoon, we continued on to Xanthos, another Lycian city built on a hilltop with a commanding view of the surrounding valley which, today, is covered in shadehouses.
Prior to the establishment of the Lycian Federation in 167 B.C., with its Bouleuterion in Patara, Xanthos was believed to have been the capital of ancient Lycia.
The city is so old that ancient texts tell the story of the Persian conquest of Xanthos in 540 B.C. It’s an horrific tale. Outnumbered and exhausted, rather then surrender to the Persian invaders, the Lycian warriors of Xanthos locked all their wives, children, slaves and property inside the city walls, then set it on fire, killing and destroying all within. They then made their final stand in battle and died to the last man. Mass suicide.
And that wasn’t the only time they did this. In 42 A.D., during the Roman Civil War, Brutus, after murdering Caesar, moved on to Lycia and attacked Xanthos. Again, outnumbered and defeated, the warriors and all the occupants of the city committed mass suicide.
While there are remains of several public buildings, for example, a Theater and Basilica, Xanthos is known today – appropriately, I might add – for its tombs.
In addition to the sarcophagus in the picture above, here are the Harpy Tomb and a Lycian pillar tomb (the marble top of the Harpy Tomb is a replica; the original is in a museum in London, having been looted in the 1800s by an English explorer), all from the 4th Century B.C.
And the Xanthian Obelisk, another grave marker, containing 250 lines of a Greek poem in Lycian:
And, lastly, another Lycian pillar tomb that we bushwhacked our way to at the top of the hill.
Down at the parking lot, I had purchased a topographical guide map of Xanthos, so we were having no trouble finding our way around the sprawling site. As we were heading uphill to the large pillar tomb in the photo above, a local Turkish man suddenly appeared and said, in broken English, “Lion tomb, lion tomb,” pointing at a side trail, then walking ahead and signaling for us to follow him, which we did. The trail did, indeed, lead to a sarcophagus with a lion in relief on the lid, though it wasn’t really any different than any of the other sarcophagi we had already seen.
He then sprinted ahead and pretended to lift a low-hanging branch for us to walk under while pointing uphill and saying, “Pillar tomb.” I could see what was coming, but went along with him anyway – nothing had been asked of us and nothing promised.
After I took the above picture of the pillar tomb and we looked around, our new “friend” held out his hand to shake mine, then stood expectantly, waiting for a tip. I reached into my pocket and handed him a 5 Lira note (about $2.50). He looked at me, feigning shock, and signaled that that wasn’t enough, “Five more, five more.”
“Nope,” said I, thinking about retrieving my 5 Lira from him. What’s that saying about the gift horse?
Which leads me to a discomfiting observation. The Turkish people are known for their friendliness – and, to be sure, we have met many sincerely friendly Turks, several of whom I’ve written about. However, I can’t help but feel that every time we’re approached by a chatty, smiling Turk, there’s a con game afoot, and I’m the mark.
It might be their way of doing business and, after all, it’s their country and culture, but if the Turks want that business to be tourism, they should think about policing their touting a little bit. I don’t mind good salesmanship at all; but greed and deceit lie in a different category.