We visited the geographical Chimaera, west of Antalya, on Tuesday, May 16, 2006. We were staying in Giritli Pansiyon in Çıralı, whither we had arrived on the previous Sunday morning. On Tuesday afternoon, we went back to Antalya for Antalya Algebra Days.
The relevent passage in the Iliad is the conversation of Diomedes and Glaucus in Book VI. Diomedes asks Glaucus's origins. Glaucus wonders why Diomedes should care about his lineage, since the generations of men are like the generations of leaves. The importance of the passage was stressed by my ninth-grade ancient-Greek-history teacher, George Constantinople. But I never imagined that one day I would live several hours by bus from Glaucus's homeland and from Constantinople.
I review the old story. At Troy, Glaucus was fighting on the side of Asia, where he had apparently been born and bred. But his grandfather Bellerophon had come across the sea from Argos.
In Argos, the wife of King Proetus of Ephyre had lusted after Bellerophon, who refused her advances. Naturally, fair Anteia told her husband that Bellerophon had tried to rape her.
It was Biblical, except that, presumably, Proetus kept his knowledge a secret from Bellerophon. Instead of making accusations, Proetus just sent Bellerophon to visit Anteia's father, king of Lycia, in the region that is now southwestern Turkey. In an example of the hospitality that can still be found here, the Lycian king feasted Bellerophon for nine days before asking, by the way, what was the message from his Argive son-in-law.
A footnote in the Loeb Iliad says that the message from Proetus is the only indication of writing in Homer. The Lycian king read or otherwise interpreted the message, which called for Bellerophon's death. (I remember seeing such a message delivered to Pierce Brosnan in a movie.) So the king sent Bellerophon to perform several deadly tasks, one of which was to slay the Chimaera.
The Chimaera was in front a lion, in back a serpent, and in the middle a goat; and she breathed fire. Homer says merely that Bellerophon slew her. I gather that Hesiod and others have a more elaborate version of the story, involving Pegasus.
It is also claimed that the story of a fire-breathing monster originates from a place on the Lycian coast where fire issues from the ground. I can now attest that such a place does exist.
We had seen an advertisement in the newspaper Bir Gün the previous year, but were unable to visit then. The ad was for a quiet pansion nestled under the trees on the Lycian coast. The name of the pension was Giritli, that is, “from Crete”.
We now know that Giritli is the name of a couple with a little girl who were living in Istanbul until they decided to escape. Alp was an actor and playwright; Zeynep was conserving the furnishings at Dolmabahçe Palace. But they got tired of living in the city. They acquired what had been the local disco in the village of Çıralı near the ancient city of Olympos, and they made the building into a pension with rooms for four pairs of guests.
Supposedly Olympos is now popular with a certain kind of tourist for “the rumoured availability of a certain herb,” as the Lonely Planet guide says. When Ayşe and I arrived at the Antalya otogar at seven on Sunday morning, and the taxi-drivers saw these two dishevelled backbackers, the drivers immediately offered us rides to Olympos.
We saved our money and packed into the coastal minibus instead. Along with the local Turkish passengers, we were joined by a young Italian with dreadlocks, and his friends.
After a ride of an hour and half, we were met at the Çıralı junction by Alp Giritli, a bearded man who drove us in an old Ford the remaining seven kilometers to the pension. We had tea with him and Zeynep, then gathered our swimming things and continued down the road on foot; it was two more kilometers to the sea.
My favorite place in the world has been Sedan, a locality in West Virginia given its name by German immigrants after the defeat of France by Prussia at the Battle of Sedan in 1870. I am amazed to find that there is actually a Wikipedia article on Sedan, telling the origin of its name, since Sedan now, as I see it, has a permanent population of six. Sedan is important to me simply because one of the houses there was acquired by my uncle in my early childhood, and I have spent many weeks there hiking in the mountains, swimming in the river, or just sitting around, with others or by myself, looking at nothing but grass and trees and blue sky.
Coming to Giritli Pension was like coming to Sedan. The mountains are a different shape. The trees are different varieties. But green is green.
One reaches Giritli Pension by a footbridge across a stream lined with plane trees. One of those trees has diameter equal to my height. The stream flows towards the sea through a narrow valley; but the valley widens enough to host a stand of great pine trees, beneath which Giritli Pension sits.
We were the first customers of the year. The Giritlis would not start advertising in Bir Gün till June. They have no sign along the road; they used to, but they didn't like some of the people who wanted to stay with them, so they took the sign down.
We knew that the Chimaera was nearby. We had not known that we could reach it by climbing straight up the ridge behind the pension. Alp showed us the way on Tuesday morning, before we returned to Antalya proper for our algebra conference.
On the day before, Monday, Alp led us up to the castle on the opposite ridge. The castle was Lycian, said Alp; so it might date to Homeric times. Possibly it was built later by Genoese, Venetians, or Rhodians. Probably it appears in no guide-book. There is not much of it left, and you might not notice it from down in the valley. Goats know it is there; their droppings are all over the rocks. From the castle you see the green hills and the sea.
The Chimaera is along the Lycian Way, a 500 km footpath between the coastal cities of Antalya and Fethiye created by a British woman who seems now to be a naturalized Turkish citizen. Geographically, the Chimaera is an expanse of exposed rock; here and there, flames jet out from between layers of the rock. We were only there in broad daylight; one might have to watch out, lest one burn one's ankles. Still, the larger flames were easy to see. Alp lit a cigarette from one of them. At the base of the rock are the remains of a Byzantine church, supposedly built atop a temple of Hephaestus. (Or if that temple had a different foundation, I'm sorry we did not see it.)
We had reached the Chimaera by the back way, from above, along a path that put me in mind of Atalaya Mountain. A sign had announced that there was an entrance fee; but after we left the burning rocks (yanartaş) and continued down the slope, we saw nobody at the base who tried to sell us a ticket. It was early in the season, and the tourists were few. Still, a shop was open selling refreshments, including the bottles of wine that people might enjoy taking along when they visited the Chimaera in the cool of the evening.
Alp had a tea with us—I had a fresh orange juice—in Çıralı town before heading home and leaving us to swim and eat lunch. There are no great multi-storey hotels in the town; probably they are forbidden, because the beach is a breeding ground for sea-turtles. There are just some small pensions.
The sea at Çıralı was shockingly cold at first, but as usual, one got used to it when one was fully immersed. I had had a very mild cold in Ankara; I thought it had passed by the time we went to the Lycian coast; but my first swim on Sunday brought out a catarrh that lasted for the duration of our stay. However, I remained energetic, and I felt no need to adjust my activities (aside from buying a silk handkerchief at one of the tourist shops).
To enter that sea from that mountainous coast is one of the great pleasures. Elsewhere, I quote Freya Stark on the experience.
The Giritlis made us wonderful dinners consisting of several vegetable dishes. I could not name the dishes; I can only recall ingredients like broccoli, artichokes, fava beans, tomatoes, greens…Our hosts were not vegetarian, but were sympathetic, and were able to be creative with the local produce that they had on hand. Alp asked me about my experience working on an organic vegetable farm an hour's drive from Sedan. (This was all in Turkish; neither one of the couple showed a sign of knowing any English. I got Ayşe to translate the more complicated points.) Zeynep had a tendency to anemia, and this was given as a reason to eat meat; but I wondered: if she was eating meat and was still anemic, did this not suggest that meat was not beneficial? Nutrition is mysterious.
For lunch, we were on our own. We ended up going every day to the same place, Ceylan (“Gazelle”) Cafe, run by a village woman. She served a different dish of meatless ev yemeği (“house food”) every day, along with staples like çoban salatası (“shepherd salad”, of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and peppers), garlicky cacık (tzatziki), and gözleme (billed to the tourist as “Turkish pancake”: a sheet of thin dough folded over a savory or sweet filling and baked on a convex griddle). We sat in a shaded area bordered by flower beds and potted flowers; beyond these flowers was an orchard of pomegranate trees in flower. At our feet were hens and their rooster, who occasionally crowed. (We did wonder for a moment about bird flu; but Ayşe recalled learning from Alp that many local birds had been killed prophylactically during the crisis last winter. The slaughter might lead to a surfeit of scorpions this summer.)
It transpired that the Giritli's daughter Hazan was good friends with our lunch hostess Rabiya's daughter Bahanur. On Tuesday, after our swim and lunch, Alp picked up the girls at the school nearby, then picked up Ayşe and me from the cafe. At the pension, we packed up our things, and Alp drove us up to the main road, where the minibus just happened to be dropping off a passenger. At the Antalya otogar, a local bus to our conference hotel just happened to be waiting. Public transport in Turkey is amazing.