Fethiye, April, 2007
In the beginning…
I first came to Turkey on Wednesday, July 29, 1998. After a week in Ankara, Ayşe took me to Fethiye on the southwestern coast. Our overnight bus arrived on Friday morning (August 7). We stayed in a place called Savaşçı Pansiyon, a.k.a. Feridun's Place, because the Rough Guide to Turkey (3rd edition, 1997) had spoken well of the views from its rooftop breakfast terrace. The praise was deserved.
Our other travel guide was Herodotus. He knew Fethiye as Telmessus, in Lycia. According to him (I.84), the Telmessians had advised King Meles of Sardis that he could make the walls of his city impregnable by carrying about them the leonine issue of his concubine. But Meles omitted to carry the monstrous child around that part of the wall that was already considered proof against attack. This omission allowed the Persians under Cyrus to take the city during the rule of Croesus. Croesus had asked the Telmessians to explain why the city's horses were eating snakes. The Telmessians replied (I.78) that the snakes were the people of Sardis, while the horses were foreign invaders. Meanwhile, the Persian siege had already been successful.
In our day, little remained of Telmessus but some tombs carved in the cliffs above, and the theater. (Some of those tombs are barely visible in one of the photos below.) The theater was near our pension; but we were far away from a proper beach. So, on the day of our arrival, we took a dolmuş to Çalış Plajı. The water there was murky, but my first Mediterranean bathing experience was overlooked by mountains. Years later (in the summer of 2006), Ayşe and I were on a bus from Washington to New York, chatting with a fellow passenger, who recommended some of the Atlantic beaches nearby. “Are there mountains behind them?” I had to ask. “Are they beaches from which Homeric heroes set sail for Troy?”
We spent five nights in Fethiye. We took two day-long boat trips, on Saturday and Monday. These trips took us to various idyllic bays and coves on the coast and the adjacent islands. The weather was so hot that one made full use of each chance to swim in the clear turquoise water. It was not so in Bodrum. This was Herodotus's home town of Halicarnassus, further north on the Aegean Sea; we went there after Fethiye. On our boat trip in Bodrum, some bathers would return to the boat well before it was time to move on. The hills were not so impressive either.
On Sunday in Fethiye, I wanted to do something more energetic than Ayşe did; so we separated, and I set out on a macadamized road that headed up into the mountains from behind the Crusaders' castle that overlooked the town. After an hour of walking, I reached a saddle and sat for a while under the pine trees, writing in my diary. When I came back down, I found that I could use an old abandoned road paved with stone. Later I understood that I had been on the road to the abandoned village known as Kaya. Ayşe and I went there by dolmuş on Tuesday (along another route), then made the two-hour hike down to Ölüdeniz.
TodayNow, nine years later (2007), we have taken advantage of a national holiday and our own teaching schedules to visit Fethiye again. We have both walked that road to Kaya Köyü, and again continued on to Ölüdeniz.
We arrived in Fethiye by bus on Friday morning, April 20. The following Monday would be Children's Day; we had reservations on a bus back to Ankara that evening. We had been unable to reach Savaşçı Pansiyon from Ankara, so we made a reservation at the nearby Ideal Pension. Ayşe did the telephone work. The man at Ideal said his place might fill up, because of the coming ANZAC Day; he asked us to call again to confirm that we were coming. Ayşe did this. She called a third time on Thursday morning; we would be catching our bus to Fethiye that night. “I thought you had cancelled your reservation” said the man. But there was still space. Ayşe said we would be there around 7.30 the next day.
At around seven on Friday morning, in the middle of nowhere, our bus was stopped by gendarmes, who collected identification cards from all of the passengers. They took my passport. While we were waiting to find out what was going on, a number of people left the bus for a cigarette. Then the gendarmes returned and called for somebody by name. A middle-aged man went with them. Soon the man's wife was called; she collected luggage and left. The two muavin were given the identification cards—all out of order—to return to the passengers. (The muavin would be a “flight attendent”, if the bus had wings.) The bus drove off, leaving the two people behind.
Nobody was around at Ideal Pension when we got there around eight o'clock. A couple of guests turned up, for breakfast or to check out; but no host. Ayşe telephoned the man she had talked to; he seemed to think somebody else should have been there to help us; he himself would come in ten minutes. We waited twenty minutes, then decided we might as well patronize another pension in the neighborhood: one doesn't have a lot of patience after a night in a bus-chair. We could see that Feridun's Place no longer existed; we ended up staying at Duygu Pension.
In the town
The convoluted coastline around Fethiye made orientation difficult. I could look out over the water from our pension, and I would have to remember that I was looking in the direction of Ankara. Indeed, in the aerial photo, north is downwards. In the astronaut photo above, north is towards the lower left; in the road map, it is up.
Duygu Pension had a large array of the solar heaters and storage tanks. One could take a piping hot shower, first thing in the morning. I assume there was no auxiliary heater! Our room did, however, have an electric air conditioner, for those northern Europeans who leave their mild summers for the fierce summer sun of the Mediterranean coast. In August, 1998, Feridun's Place had had no air conditioner; we just slept uncovered.
Our pension was in the second (ıkinci) of the two Karagöz (Black Eyes) to the west of the city center. Feridun's Place and Ideal Pension were in the first, Birinci Karagöz. To get from one to the other, we found a footpath to take, instead of the road.
On the street beside the mosque (perpendicular to the coastline), we found poppies growing from the base of a wall. When we passed the same spot a few hours later, the poppies were gone, along with all of the other growth from between the cracks. The municipal landscapers had been at work. I remembered my landlord in Maryland. He would mow the grass. On one occasion, he was nearly finished, except for one flower growing at the base of a tree. He hesitated with his weed-whacker, and then—the flower was gone.
There were many wildflowers around Fethiye. Most of them were yellow or purple, aside from the poppies; is this according to some general law of nature? Spring did seem to be the time to visit that coast. The land was lush, and there was enough to eat for all of the goats that we saw. I never used the sweater that I had brought.
Goats browsed on the landward side of the road that passed behind the Crusader castle. The castle has not been developed for tourism. It is possible to climb up there: we did it in 1998, but not this year. A large Turkish flag flies above it; at night, there is an illuminated silhouette of Atatürk's head. Some peasants live in shacks at the base of the castle. As we were walking past on Saturday morning, two women called out to us, inviting us to come see the castle. Ayşe explained that we were going to Kaya Köyü. One of the women went on to ask whether I was a foreigner and a Christian, and whether we had children; she told Ayşe to make me a Muslim.
To Kaya Köyü and Ölüdeniz
Down in the city, we had already met a peasant woman, who cheerfully announced that she was a Kurd from Diyarbakır. Her daughter had a boyfriend, she said, but she didn't think she should marry him: he no longer appeared to love her as much as he used to. It was good for Turks to marry foreigners, the woman said; and Ayşe and I should have at least one child.
Nearby was an old Ottoman cistern. Behind it was a modern pumping station—if pumping was really needed to get water from the mountians to the city below; in any case, one could hear water flowing inside such facilities.
Presently we came to an unmarked dirt road on the right. I didn't think a road there could lead anywhere but Kaya Köyü. Dirt was more pleasant to walk on than asphalt, so we took the dirt road. Eventually we could see where we wanted to go; but we could see also that the road was not going there. So we turned back towards the asphalt. Looking at the books now, I think the dirt road may have gone to Gemiler, a place on the water between Fethiye and Ölüdeniz that we had visited by boat in 1998. Then we could clamber about the Byzantine ruins of the adjacent St Nicholas Island (or Gemile Adası). On the mainland, according to the Rough Guide, there used to be some simple facilities, but they were declared illegal and pulled down for the developer of a holiday village. However, the holiday village seems not to have materialized.
As we continued in our intended direction along the asphalt road, we could see our destination better. Kaya Köyü was on the far side of the valley below us. The village was abandoned when its Christian inhabitants were forcibly sent to Greece in the population exchange. Muslims sent from Greece (it is said) did not want to live in the houses, thinking them cursed. However, it is perhaps the descendents of those involuntary immigrants from Greece who are farming the valley now.
Somewhere in the shade we stopped to eat our lunch: half a kilo of ıspanaklı börek picked up at a shop in town. Then we heard voices higher up on the road. Soon a dog came trotting along. Apparently it didn't belong to the voices; it just hung out with whatever people it found. There was a tag in its ear.
We might have made our hike in many places, wherever there were mountains, trees, and sun. The sea was an important component, though that was out of sight by now. But in how many places do you happen upon monumental tombs that have been standing by the road for a couple of millenia? The Lycians had scattered such tombs all over their land.
There is some small-scale tourism in the valley. It wasn't the tourist season yet, but there was a restaurant ready for anybody who might happen by. We stopped for an ayran in the open air.
Then we continued on our way. When we reached the abandoned village itself, we tried to pass the trinket stalls and just enter. It turned out we needed a ticket costing 5 YTL (less than $ 3). It is a bit unpleasant to pay to enter the site of a cruel episode in history—even if the population exchanges had been proposed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner. According to the Nobel Prize website,
The League [of Nations] asked [Fridtjof Nansen] to resolve a complicated dispute which had arisen between Greece and Turkey. Turkey had been one of the losing parties in World War I, and the state was breaking up. Greece tried to profit from the situation by taking the west coast of Asia Minor, where a large proportion of the population was Greek. But Turkey's new leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, drove the Greeks out in 1922, in consequence of which over one million ethnic Greeks fled from Asia Minor to Greece. In the opposite direction, Turks fled from Greek-controlled territories.
Nansen decided that the only solution lay in “ethnic separation”. Turks and Greeks could not live together. He persuaded the Greek and Turkish governments to agree to a population exchange. Moslems in Greek areas would be exchanged with Greek-Orthodox groups in Asia Minor. The exchange was completed in 1924.
We found a good overlook and took a break. Then we had to follow switchbacks down an exposed rock face. We missed one of the switchbacks, but we still saw footprints in the bits of dirt between the rocks. Probably those other people didn't know which way to go any better than we did. We turned back, and finally we understood the logic of the blazes:
Some roadsigns are angular symbols like a less-than sign (<); these are to be interpreted as arrow-heads, meaning that the road curves left. On our trail, some of the blazes, instead of being rectangular, were shaped like a gamma (Γ). They were drawings of a right angle. They were not to be interpreted as arrow-heads indicating a left turn. They were drawings of what our path should look like from above: so they meant us to turn right. Simple enough; but sometimes things that should be simple take some people a while to figure out. (I thought tricky points in trails were indicated by pairs of blazes; maybe that's for intersections. I don't know how we made our way nine years ago; the two-colored blazes did not exist then, though there were some red dots. Possibly the new blazes were made as part of the Lycian Way project.)
At the bottom of the rocks, we reached some pasture that we had seen from above. There was a rectangular cistern, but no livestock at the moment. We sat and finished our börek. The trail continued beneath the trees. Then we could see Ölüdeniz.
Near the bottom of the trail, one sees a steep rock face. Then one walks around the lagoon and its various facilities. One place contradictorily calls itself the most exclusive, while offering free admission. There were some children bathing in the lagoon. Out on the exposed beach however, nobody was in the sea. We just caught the dolmuş back to Fethiye.
The memory in our new digital camera was full. We didn't take the trouble of finding an internet cafe and copying the photos to a CD. We didn't know what the photos would be like anyway. As a result, though Sunday was in some ways more spectacular than Saturday, we have no photos to show this.
The Pamukkale bus company had unaccountably cancelled our reservation for Monday night. We suspect that somebody with connexions took our seats, even though they were in the last row. All other busses were full. This is what happens on an official long weekend. So we had to take seats (on Metro) for Sunday night. After we had gone to the otogar on Sunday morning and obtained our tickets, we found a dolmuş that would take us to the Lycian city of Tlos for the day.
The only other passengers were two young women. One or two other people got on and off along the way. The trip took more than an hour. According to the roadsign, Tlos is 4 km east the main road through the Xanthos valley. According to the books, dolmuşlar did not normally cover those four kilometers. So an exception was made for the two women whom we joined. They were on the dolmuş when it came back down the hill for us at five o'clock, as planned. We had been sitting at an open-air restaurant whose owner turned out to be the father-in-law of one of the women. She could only hop out briefly, kiss his hand, then press it to her forehead in the conventional sign of loving submission to elders. She and the other woman—her sister—had spent their day visiting their mother further up the road.
The Acropolis of Tlos sat high on the eastern side of the green Xanthos valley. Behind the acropolis were great snow-covered mountains. Approaching the acropolis from that side, the eastern side, one sees mainly tombs, either free-standing or carved into the rock. We ducked into one of the latter during a rainshower: it was a cloudy day, though the rain itself did not last long.
Bellerophon slew the Chimaera. One version of the story is in Homer. Last year, we visited the remains of the Chimaera, further east along the Lycian coast. At Tlos, the Lonely Planet guide said there was a bas-relief of Bellerophon.
We could not have found the image without the advice of the ticket-seller. He pointed out the trail to take. We had to wind our way down a few switch-backs on a path through thick grass above a gorge lined with flowering Judas trees (erguvan). Then we climbed a wobbly ladder made of logs nailed together. There was a tomb entrance, carved so as to have two pillars; just inside, on the left wall, we found a human figure on a winged horse. Homer does not say that Pegasus helped Bellerophon slay the Chimaera; Hesiod does:
(ll. 270-294) And again, Ceto bare to Phorcys the fair-cheeked Graiae, sisters grey from their birth…; and the Gorgons, who dwell beyond glorious Ocean in the frontier land towards Night where are the clear-voiced Hesperides: Sthenno, and Euryale, and Medusa who suffered a woeful fate; she was mortal, but the [former] two were undying and grew not old. With her lay the Dark-haired One [Poseidon] in a soft meadow amid spring flowers. And when Perseus cut off her head, there sprang forth great Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus, who is so called because he was born near the springs (pegae) of Ocean…Now Pegasus flew away and left the earth, the mother of flocks, and came to the deathless gods: and he dwells in the house of Zeus and brings to wise Zeus the thunder and lightning…
(ll. 306-332) Men say that Typhaon the terrible, outrageous and lawless, was joined in love to her [Echidna], the maid with glancing eyes. So she conceived and brought forth fierce offspring…She was the mother of Chimaera who breathed raging fire, a creature fearful, great, swift-footed and strong, who had three heads, one of a grim-eyed lion; in her hinderpart, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire. Her did Pegasus and noble Bellerophon slay…
Back up on the road, I bought a version of the Bellerophon image, carved in soft stone. The seller and his brother said they spent their winters carving these stones, and they demonstrated how they did it.
The restaurants at Tlos apparently did not exist when our old edition of the Rough Guide was written. They were simple, open affairs with a view. There were few tourists, and these were mostly local, though one elderly French couple pulled up in a caravan and tromped about the ruins for a while. Some tour busses drove past, on their way higher up to some more elaborate facilities, such as (presumably) Yakapark. Meanwhile, we sat at the first restaurant at Tlos, eating menemen, salad, and beer, contemplating the ruins and the colors of spring.
A crop of wheat was growing in the stadium of the old city. It belonged to our restaurateur. He also had a stony field of beans, but these were not up yet. He used to grow cotton and tobacco, he said, but then the price fell too far. He then grew anise, which flavors rakı; but again he couldn't get a good price (even though, since the removal of the state monopoly, new brands of rakı seem to be appearing all the time). So now he had his wheat and his beans, and his restaurant. I asked him what was the most beautiful (güzel) season in the area. If it wasn't spring, I thought he might say that every season had its beauty. Instead, he asked for clarification: Was I asking about the landscape, or about business?
We had to walk up the road a bit to see the theater. Most of its stones are still roughly in their original places. There was also a side road to a building that would have had spectacular views, though it was fenced off. We thought it was the church, but it was probably the baths. Great vines had once covered the walls; but the vines had been severed, presumably to save the stonework.
We caught the dolmuş back to Fethiye; this time it became standing room only. After spending two nights of the last four on the road, we spent some time on the Monday holiday sleeping at home.
All photos here taken on land (that is, all but three photos) were taken by Ayşe Berkman and me, April 20–21, 2007. The large versions of these pictures can be obtained by clicking.