Our trip to Labranda and on into the clutches of commerce The painting holidays finished, we had two glorious weeks of holiday of our own, so we decided to make a couple of excursions, in order to explore and perhaps add to the painting holiday programme. “Try before you buy”.
We had heard that Labranda, an ancient site, just beyond Milas was a pretty amazing experience, plus I had always wanted to go and visit Heraclea just behind Lake Bafa, which was only a short drive beyond.
A plan was made: first Labranda, followed by Euromos, then lunch by Lake Bafa and then a visit to Herculea.
Fantastical names of ancient warriors, gods and kings abound in these histories, who could fail to be entranced by the fables and mysteries held there, the ancient ground just loaded with thousands of years of lost blood, love, devotion and sacrifice. Labranda Set solid on the top of a mountain with incredible views over the plains towards Mugla It was always a holy place for the Carian and Mysians alike and some say could be 6000 years in existence in one form or another.
The Persians came, in 477BC, conquered the Carians and set Mausulus (of big grave fame) up as a sort of governor. It became the ancestral shrine and was used for many rituals, feasts and processions in the summer months. A temple to Zeus was built, because a large, strangely shaped rock stands high above the site, and gives the impression of being split in two by a massive thunderbolt and appears to resemble the double headed axe used by the god in battle. The site was never a city, never really built up; it remained a place of worship and retreat for centuries up until Byzantium times.
I, for one, am not at all surprised this site was deemed holy. It is an extraordinary position set on impeccable terraces with outstanding views, the steep and narrow windy road leading up to the site is lined with olives and umbrella shaped trees, large rocks strewn about as if tossed aside by a giant hand and huge scars of quarries recently cut.
When you reach the first sight of the buildings, you realise that this is a good deal older than the Hellenistic period. The stone is dark and heavy, the supports less ornate and that massive rock at the rear – it honestly does look as if a hammer has smote it! Still looking the same after all this time. Just as amazing as that rock is the earth and stone beneath your feet, everywhere there is an abundance of Iron Pyrites, fool’s gold, which lies within the ground. It literally glistens and twinkles with it. Who could fail to think it was a magical place?
According to history and legend Alexander the Great, Mausulus, Zeus, the King of Persia among many others all trod these ways and the sense of ancient history is palpable amongst those antique stones, you can hear it in the tinkling water, rustling grasses and the leaves on the pine and plane trees as the wind carrying the cries and laughter of peoples long dead is carried up and around you as you stand mesmerised by the enormity of the place.
The caretaker, along with his two dogs, lives in a wooden house on the site with his wife, daughter and mother aged 83. The tiniest woman with the tiniest feet I have ever seen. We seemed to be the only people there; he hailed us to join him after our tour. They offered us tea and we sat with them under the shade of a rudimentary canopy as his wife trimmed runner beans and plopped them carefully into a large black pot. I gathered they also reared sheep, goats, and chickens.
It seemed idyllic, but it gets very cold in the winter I was told. I imagine it must at so many kilometres above sea level. Amazing though it sounds, the local school bus climbs the vertiginous road up to this historic spot to collect his daughter for school, there and back, what a service! I cannot imagine that happening in the UK. They seemed comfortable and happy and as usual I was reminded how affable, generous and contented the majority of Turkish people are, no matter how humble their homes. We left having taken copious photos refreshed and elated. This really was a mixture of cultures and we had been a part of it.
After Labranda it would seem rude not to pop into Euromos on our way to Lake Bafa. We almost missed it; set well below on a low hill, it seemed so small after the monumental presence of Labranda. Euromos was in fact a true city and a prosperous one too; they even minted their own coins. Dating from 6th century B.C. originally Carian and on the Carian walkway between Labranda and other major Carian sites. There too is a temple to the cult of Zeus. However, the temple that we can see nowadays was built much later, in the Roman times, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). From an architectural point of view, it is a peripteros, i.e. a building surrounded by a single colonnade.
The long sides of the temple are decorated with 11 columns each, and the short ones – with six columns. Originally there were 32 columns, all made in the Corinthian order. 16 complete columns remain. The ruins are one of the most complete ruins of a temple in the whole of Asia Minor and certainly the preserved classical temple in the whole of Turkey.
In Roman times, Euromos was granted the status of an autonomous city, but soon afterward it was completely abandoned. The most probable reason was the Antonine Plague that broke out in the western part of Asia Minor in 166 AD. The scholars suspect it to have been either smallpox or measles. In subsequent years, an epidemic spread throughout the entire territory of the Roman Empire, and within 20 years decimated its population.
Oddly, after the free tea and chats we had received in Labranda, there was an admission charge of 8TL to go in. The site was disappointingly small, insofar as what had been excavated, but the temple was certainly worth it and there were ruins of a theatre, city walls and an agora should you wish to inspect.
Bafa Gölü is a big lake, no, wait a HUGE lake off the road to Izmir from Milas. Besides being a historical site, Bafa is also a Natural Park thanks to its unspoiled surroundings and the vast variety of wildlife and flowers.
The Beşparmak Mountains (5 finger Mountains are an impressive backdrop. The lake is vast; it seems to go on forever, as you drive past the far side recedes into the distance, where it meets the mountains. And those mountains? They seem to be made up of the result of a massive upheaval, which has literally taken them apart and flung them back together again in a topsy-turvy, heavy, monumental pile. They also hide old Greek monasteries and even pre-historical wall paintings.
The lakeshore reveals some small cafes and lokantas, and the remains of the rock tombs of Herakleia. Bafa Lake itself is home to several islands to which you can take a boat trip, visiting the remains of the monasteries that were built on them. It is a truly awe-inspiring place. Knowing about Lake Van in the east, which should you look at a map, is many many times the size, it gives you an indication of just how much water Turkey has. Lake Bafa, is, of course an inland sea, long separated from its parent Aegean, now after centuries of rain from the mountains falling into the silted up Meander River, it has become desalinated.
To leas than 50%. It is such a romantic place, with its proliferation of little islands, some with what appear to be ancient castles perched on the tiny land, where tales of imprisoned maidens seem to be commonplace – and thoroughly believable.
We were so hungry by the time we reached the lake, that we were rather less discriminating regarding our lunch halt. In retrospect I wish we had stopped at one of the many umbrella –shaded stalls selling fresh produce and Ayran along the way. However the position was great, right on the lake shore, the water sloshed and swished delightfully, we were accosted by a phalanx of ducks demanding bread and noted several fish. None of which seemed particularly hungry.
The meal was fine, I have never really had a bad meal in Turkey, however it was HUGELY expensive! Two gozleme, some ayran, water and a salad came to the excruciating price of 110TL. I had to ask the waiter to repeat what he said, doubting my usually OK Turkish. Yup, true. That is the same price I would expect to pay for a good fish dinner with mezze and wine in Yalikavak! But nothing daunted we carried on to Heraclea, after all we are only talking about £16!
Heraclea Heraclea was a disaster!
We were very excited to see this place, the stuff of legends; monasteries, old city walls, ancient theatres, and lots more besides, all tucked amongst a real working Turkish village. Indeed it was, but we didn’t reckon on the women! Old ones, thin ones, fat ones, young ones, stout and sturdy, brash and whiny, clutching and grasping, shouting and laughing, about fifteen or so all wanting to sell us something made of crochet from their cloth shoulder bags, or even worse, just wanting money.
We did not care for that one bit. They surrounded the car and we could not move. I leapt out to help the reversal and could not even reach the rear of the car for bolster-breasted women! The car got scraped.
Phil got angry and rather red in the face. I tried to save the day by walking to the city walls, but the moment had gone. And so were we.
Appendix We will try again, but be more prepared and maybe spend more time on Bafa, taking care to check the prices beforehand and perhaps visit Heraclea during the winter months, when the ladies are knitting by their firesides.