- What’s On
‘There are not so many places left where magic reigns without interruption,’ wrote Freya Stark in The Lycian Shore, ‘and of all those I know, the coast of Lycia was the most magical.’ Barnaby Rogerson went with Rose Baring and four-month-old Molly in search of enchantment. Photographs by Faruk Akbas
The most westerly part of Turkey’s southern coast is backed by towering mountains that tumble headlong right to the shore of the beckoning Mediterranean.
It is one of the most dramatic of coastlines, alternating between sandy beaches and hostile cliffs that have long been the terror of sailors. Inland, two fertile valleys that have traditionally supported their inhabitants are honeycombed with the ruins of a unique civilisation.
No traveller can escape the spell woven by the constellations of tombs which look down upon the land from cliffs and hilltops. Little is known of the culture of the ancient Lycians, the architects of these temples, tombs and sarcophagi, but there are a few encouraging facts to help the visitor. Isolated by their dramatic landscape (the coast road only completed its tortuous route some thirty years ago), the Lycians lived as a peaceful confederacy of city states, governed by the deliberations of a proportionally representative body, a feat the civilised Greeks never managed.
The heartland of the Lycian state was the Xanthos River, now known as the Esen Çayı. The land is still meticulously worked; we saw many a group of women bent double in the small patchwork of cotton fields, their white headscarves matching the unpicked buds. The occasional man would carry a full bag to the side, returning with empty sacks for refilling. Dusk was rush hour as rosy-cheeked pickers returned home on the backs of tractors and trailers.
We followed one such party up the steep, rutted road to the ruins of ancient Tlos, one of the five major cities of the Lycian confederacy, which stands back from the river, surveying its progress from on high. The view, in all its hazy greens and blues, entranced us into spending the night among the crumbling walls of an Ottoman fort in which the traveller and antiquarian Sir Charles Fellows, in the 19th century, described taking tea with the Bey. Below us the perpendicular façades of the rocks were punctuated by tombs, ranging from simple rectangles of stone panelled to look like heavy wooden doors to Ionic temples, complete with columns, capitals and entblature…
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When the intrepid Lady Mary Wortley Montagu travelled with her husband’s embassy to Turkey in 1716, she recorded the minutiae of life on the road and in her ‘new world’. . Remarkably open-minded, her innocent observations inspired Ingres to paint some of the greatest erotic masterpieces of the Romantic movement.
In the early nineteenth century the redoubtable Englishman John Barker built a country retreat in the province of Hatay, close to the present-day Syrian border, planting his estate with exotic fruit trees, watching over the British Empire’s Indian Mail, and entertaining guests with music on the mechanical organ. David Morray looks back on the golden age of ‘Suedia Hall’