Pinara, Turkey.

Evocative Ancient Lycian city

The remote ancient Lycian city of Pinara is on a pine forested mountain foothill of the ancient Mount Cragus (today Mount Babadag),two kilometres above the village of Minare, in the Fethiye district of Mugla Province, south-western Turkey.

The lost ruins of Pinara were discovered by Sir Charles Fellows, a British archaeologist and traveller from the 19th century.

Colonists from the overpopulated city of Xanthos, which was the largest city of the Lycian Federation, established Pinara (meaning ‘round hill’ in ancient Lycian) on the western bank of the River Xanthos in the 5th century BC. During this period, Pinara had a large natural harbour and was one of the chief ports of the influential Lycian league. The harbour no longer exists and in its place are reed-filled wetlands.

Very little was written about Pinara by ancient writers, however Strabo, the ancient Greek geographer, philosopher and historian wrote Pinara was a very important and developed city and was one of the six principal cities of the prominent Lycian league and possessed three votes at the Federal assembly. (The other five were Xanthos, Patara, Olympus, Myra, and Tlos). 

Strabo also noted that the city appears to have paid hero honours to Pandarus, Homers celebrated archer from the Trojan war.

In 334 BC, the city surrendered happily to Alexander the Great, on his march through Lycia. The locals welcomed as a liberator Alexander because of their disdain for the former Persian occupiers. The city, like the rest of Lycia, was completely Hellenised during this period.

Ancient Theatre. Pinara. Turkey.
View of the spectacular Greek-style 2nd century BC theatre. Pinara. Turkey. The theatre is situated at the base of the ancient city and accommodated up to 3,200 spectators.

After Alexander’s death, his empire was spilt with Pinara annexed to the Attalid Kingdom, the Hellenistic Dynasty that ruled Pergamum. It eventually became under Roman rule and achieved great prosperity. During its peak, Pinara even minted its own coins.

The area was and is prone to earthquakes and large earth-shaking events considerably damaged the city in 141 and 240 AD. The city was rebuilt; however, it was eventually abandoned in the 9th century.

Many footpaths crisscross the extensive and interesting site, linking many remnants from its past. Highlights include the ancient theatre, foundations of ancient temples, Cyclopean walls, an Odeon and Agora, an upper and a lower Acropolis, and thousands of rocks tombs cut into the vertical limestone cliff face, some of which are quite intricate.

Click to view the complete Pinara image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Cappadocia, Turkey.

Extraordinary Rock Formations.

Cappadocia is an extraordinary historical region in landlocked Central Anatolia, in the Nevsehir Province of Turkey. 

The area is most distinguished for the remarkable dramatic rock formations and eroded volcanic rock tuff landscape. Formed millions of years ago, the otherworldly scenery is the collective work of lava spluttering volcanoes being eroded over time by wind and water. 

The region is famed for its basalt capped fairy chimneys, natural rock formations in various shapes. Some rock formations have been excavated and hollowed out and converted into houses, hotels, chapels, churches and monasteries. 

Aerial landscape view. Cappadocia. Turkey.
Cappadocia. Turkey. Aerial view from a hot-air balloon of the spectacular rock formations and eroded volcanic rock tuff landscape.

The Goreme open-air Museum is a microcosm of the Cappadocia region. Goreme has some dramatic rock structures and a cluster of several fine christian chapels, churches and monasteries with exquisite frescoes dating from the 9th century onwards and built out of the volcanic tuff.

Cappadocia is one of most magical places in the world to take a hot-air balloon ride and I spent an hour slowly drifting over the lunar like landscape taking several images in the early morning summer light. 

UNESCO lists the Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia as a World Heritage site. 

Click to view the complete Cappadocia image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.   

Arykanda Turkey

Built on a series of terraces on a rocky steep hillside overlooking stunning mountainous and valley landscape, Arykanda’s location resonates like mystical Delphi in Greece and is perhaps the most beautiful of ancient cities in the whole of Lycia, an ancient geopolitical region in Anatolia. It is in the province of Antalya on the southern (Turquoise) coast of Turkey.

The city was well known for its grand and lavish buildings, however according to ancient sources, the citizens of Arykanda were apathetic and in the habit of living extravagantly beyond their means. It is said that they fell into debt; and it is believed they repaid their extravagance through new special taxes.

Arykanda was a small obscure settlement when it was invaded by the Persians in the 5th century BC. Like other Lycian cities, Arykanda heroically resisted the invasive powers, however, they eventually succumbed to the might of the Persian Empire.

During 333 BC, Alexander the Great arrived in Lycia (on his way to defeat the Persians) and was welcomed as a liberator by the citizens of Arykanda.

With Alexander came the overwhelming force of Hellenism. Arykanda fully embraced the Greek culture and way of life, which included the Greek language, and it was transformed with all the buildings necessary for a Greek metropolis.

In antiquity, Arykanda was a representative (with voting rights) of the Lycian League and even minted its own coins.

Arykanda continued to grow and prosper after the premature death of Alexander and remained under the control of the Ptolemaic dynasties. It briefly changed hands to Antiochus III and again to Rhodes around 190 BC (ally with Rome at the time). It was formally annexed to Rome in 43 Ad.

Grand Baths panoramic view. Arykanda. Turkey.
Part view of the Grand Baths complex and stunning landscape surrounding Arykanda, Antalya province, Southern Turkey.

The city continued to prosper as a Greek city under Roman authority; however, its prosperity was stalled when it was struck by two significant earthquakes in 141 and 240 AD.

After a bitter struggle with the city’s pagans, Christianity prevailed in Arykanda and the city became a bishop’s seat in the Byzantine age. However, the city was on the decline and sometime between the ninth and eleventh centuries AD; the site was abandoned because of the Arab invasions of the region.

British researcher and explorer Sir Charles Fellows rediscovered Arykanda in 1838. The isolated archaeological site is extensive and thoroughly sign-posted.

It has a very impressive array of excavated architectural remnants from its illustrious past including: Stadium, Theatre, Odeon, Agoras, Baths, many Temples or Sanctuaries, Nymphaeums, Houses and Villas and at least 15 monumental tombs. 

Click to view the complete Arykanda image gallery.

All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas.

Ephesus, Turkey.

Ionian Greeks established Ephesus around 1000 BC on the mouth of the now silted Kayster river on the Aegean coast and western Anatolia region of Turkey.

The city flourished during the 7th-6th centuries BC and again from the 4th century BC when it fell under the rule of Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death, the city continued to flourish under the authority of one of his successors in Lysimachus. During this prosperous time, the Greeks erected the Temple of Artemis (Artemission) which was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

Under Roman power (1st century BC onwards) Ephesus developed into a principal seaport and commercial centre on the Aegean and its population grew to 400,000 in the 2nd century AD.

Ephesus was a key to the progress of Christianity and several biblical figures stayed here, including Saint Paul, Saint John the Evangelist and, according to some sources, the Virgin Mary. 

One highlight of Ephesus is the Great Theatre, which is built on the slopes Mount Pion. Erected by the Greeks in third century BC during the Hellenistic reign of Lysimachus, the theatre was remodelled and enlarged by the Romans to what is seen today. The tiers could accommodate 25,000 people, which made it one of the largest theatres in the Roman world. Used for plays, concerts and gladiatorial events, the theatre is famous for its use by the Bible character St Paul as a place to preach against pagan worship.

Another of the other major highlights is the Library of Celsus, which is the ancient city’s most famous building. It was erected in AD 114–117 by Consul Gaius Julius Aquila as a mausoleum for his father, Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, who is buried in a in a tomb under the apsidal wall on the right side of the back wall.

The library was one of the affluent in the empire and, at its peak, had over 12,000 scrolls. The statues observed in the niches between the doors signified wisdom, Sophia, knowledge (episteme), intelligence (ennoia) and virtue (arte) of Celsus.

Ephesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Click to view the complete Ephesus image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Sagalassos Turkey

Dramatically set amongst the clouds high on the Western Taurus mountain range in Turkey, ancient Sagalassos was Hellenised, Romanised, Christianised, destroyed, abandoned, buried and then lost for centuries.

According to ancient Hittite records, Sagalassos was established around the 14th century BC in the heart of ancient Pisidia, a mountainous geopolitical region. Various empires controlled and or influenced the city over the next 1000 years, including the Phrygians, Lydians, Persians and Greeks.

A pivotal development in the history of Sagalassos occurred in 333 BC when, Alexander the Great, on his way to conquer the Persians and the known world, sacked the city after encounter fierce resistance from the Pisidian’s who had a reputation of being bold, rebellious and warlike.

Hellenism came with Alexander’s conquest of the region, and Sagalassos embraced all facets of Greek civilization and formed part of the Greek cultural territories. This had a long-lasting prosperous effect on Sagalassos as it became the most progressive city of Pisidia and new trade opportunities and routes opened up.

The Romans arrived in the 1st century BC and Sagalassos became part of the expanding Roman Empire. The city’s prosperity continued to grow and became a vital trade hub and urban centre of the region. 

Sagalassos exported grain and olives and become famous for producing its signature ‘red slip ware’, which was tableware of high quality.

The city was embellished with new buildings and monuments particular during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian who favoured the metropolis and named it the ‘first city of the region of Pisidia’. At its peak, Sagalassos had a population in the tens of thousands and was one of the more affluent cities in Asia Minor.

The decline of Sagalassos began from around 500 AD when the city was struck by plagues, water shortages, catastrophic earthquakes and the first Arabs raids.

Sagalassos was ultimately abandoned around the 7th century with most of the population moving to the valley below. It is believed that some of the city was re-occupied in parts by a minor settlement until the 13th century, and then fully abandoned and forgotten. Natural erosion and vegetation growth subsequently covered the buildings of the abandoned city and, as a result, Sagalassos was lost for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 18th century.

The extensive site (which includes an Upper and Lower City) has been undergoing large-scale excavations and restoration since 1990 and features many well-preserved remnants from its splendid past. Highlights include the monumental Nymphaeum, Roman Baths, Heroon, Bouleterion, rock tombs, Agoras, Colonnaded Street and the great Hellenistic style Roman theatre which seated 9000 spectators and is the highest (altitude) built theatre in the world.

The ruins of Sagalassos are situated high in the Western Toros (Taurus) mountains, at an altitude of 1450-1700 metres and are near the town of Aglasun in the Burdur Province in south-western Turkey. Sagalassos is a very enjoyable day trip from the well-known port and holiday resort of Antalya, which is approximately 110 km to the south of the ancient city.

Sagalassos was added to the tentative list of sites submitted to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status in 2009.

Click to view the complete Sagalaaos image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Aphrodisias Turkey.

The ancient city of Aphrodisias is one of the most rewarding and atmospheric Greco-Roman archaeological sites in Turkey.

Aphrodisias lies in the Maeander river basin, near the modern village of Geyre in the South Western Turkish province of Aydin. Heavily influenced in antiquity by Hellenistic culture, the city’s patron deity was Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and fertility.

It is believed that the site was a sacred sanctuary to Aphrodite prior to it being founded as a Greek polis (city-state) during the Hellenistic period around 3rd century BC.

The city was celebrated in antiquity for its schools of sculpture and art. Its artwork was in demand, including sculptures, reliefs, portraits, sarcophagi and decorative elements. The city’s sculptors were commissioned for work all around the Mediterranean and several of its sculptors were appointed by Roman Emperor Hadrian to work at his Villa in Tivoli, Italy. 

Aphrodisias’s prosperity did not suffer at the end of the Hellenistic period. The city continued to flourish under Roman control from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD.

It was the favourite Asia minor city of Roman Emperor Augustus who reigned for 40 years between 27 BC – AD 14. However, the city was never the same after several disastrous earthquakes 4th and 7th centuries. Crumbling building and infrastructure and the continued Arab invasions forced the once glorious city to be abandoned.

The ancient site has many highlights, including the Ionic Temple of Aphrodite, the Tetrapylon ceremonial gate, the stadium, which rivals the stadium at Delphi as the best preserved in the ancient world, the theatre used by Romans for gladiatorial spectacles, the marble Sebasteion (Greek for Augusteum), complex and a vast number of superbly crafted reliefs depicting Greek myths and Roman themes.

In 2017, the ancient city was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

The complete Aphrodisias image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.