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The cult capital of Caria is little known and rarely visited. In Cornucopia 43 Rupert Scott revealed the secrets of Aegean Turkey’s most revered site, built by the family of Mausolus high above Mylas.
The sight was dedicated to Zeus, who was worshiped in a temple here from the 6th century BC, more than a century before Mausallos and his brother Idreios enriched it. Its wonderful situation adds to its enchantment, and it is easy to see why it was the greatest place of pilgrimage for the Carian people. Scott discovered that the sacrificing of bulls here in times of drought continued up until the 1950s, but the Sacred Way from Mylas did not survive the 1960s when it was largely uprooted by building work.
Zeus Labraundos held a double-sided axe; the symbol recurs everywhere. ‘Labr’ is interpreted as ‘place of the axe’ (linking Labraunda with the labyrinth of Knossos). Plutarch tells how the axe passed to the Lydian kings after Heracles stole it from the Amazon Queen. Middle and bottom rows: Zeus Labraundos held a double-sided axe; the symbol recurs everywhere. ‘Labr’ is interpreted as ‘place of the axe’ (linking Labraunda with the labyrinth of Knossos). The cult of Zeus of the double axe is now believed to share a common ancestry with Tarhunt, the Hittite god of weather, Thor, the Nordic god of thunder, and Taranis, the Celtic god of heaven and thunder. Çomakdağ is noted for its violent thunderstorms. (From Cult Captial of Caria, by Rupert Scott, Cornucopia 43)
Worthy citizens were buried along the Sacred Way or in the rocks above the sanctuary itsel. A spphinx found here is a reminder that Caria was a Persian.
Labraunda is perhaps the most romantic of the ancient Carian sites. Set on a series of man-made terraces high in the pine-clad Latmos Mountains, some 15 kilometres north of Milas, it has an uncomparably beautiful situation and a superb view to the south and west. It is far enough off the beaten track that even today it is not unusual to find yourself its only visitor, an experience that is becoming quite rare in the ancient sites of southwest Turkey. You feel as if nothing has changed since the end of antiquity.
A handsome new book, Mylasa Labraunda: Milas Çomakdağ – the latest in the series Urban and Rural Architecture in Turkey – looks not just at Labraunda, but also at neighbouring monuments (such as Alinda and Iasos), at the vernacular architecture of the villages scattered across the mountain of Çomakdağ, at local flora, even at local geology. This may seem over-ambitious in a single volume, but the result is a very readable, attractive book that should please both the scholar and the merely intellectually curious.
Labraunda is not a city, but the sanctuary of a god and place of pilgrimage. Just as Miletus had the Temple of Apollo in Didyma, Ephesus had the Artemision and Syracuse had its Olympeion, Caria had Labraunda – the Sanctuary of Zeus Labraundos. A paved sacred way led to the sanctuary from Milas, and it is thought that Carians made an annual pilgrimage.
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