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The sheer size of Lycia’s principal city is impressive. Lying beside the River Xanthos among a cluster of smaller sights, the site extends over many acres, with a tumble-down acropolis and agora, and a fine Roman theatre where the Harpy Tomb, a chamber topped with a tall pillar, dates from the late fifth century. Other pillar tombs and cut rock tombs can also be seen. However, the best parts of Xanthos were removed by Charles Fellows in 1842, and can now be seen in the Lycian Room at British Museum, where they rate second only to the Elgin Marbles. The main piece is the Nereid monument, designed like a Greek temple, and friezes from its base depict battles between Amazons and Hellenes , and the figure of Arbinas, who took the town around 410BC and had this monument built. The elegant life-sized sculptures of the water nymphs from which the monument takes its name are a high point in classical sculpture. There are copies of some of the friezes on the site.

Some four kilometres south of Xanthos is the important religious centre of Letoon dating from the late 6th century BC, and the two are combined as one Unesco World Heritage Site. All religious and political decisions of the Lycian League’s ruling powers were declared to the public in the sanctuary, and it is particular importance to modern scholars as the key to unlocking the Lycian language was discovered with trilingual inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic as well as in Lycian.

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Issue 66, December 2023 Turkey’s Centenary Issue
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