Letoon

Letoon, Temple of Leto overlooking the agoraLetoon was the sacred cult center of Lycia, its most important sanctuary, and was dedicated to the three national deities of Lycia - Leto and her twin children Apollo and Artemis. Leto was also worshiped as a family deity and as the guardian of the tomb.

Letoon lies less than 10 km to the south of Xanthos on a fertile plain.  Xanthos and Letoon are often seen as a "double-site", since the two were closely linked and Letoon was administered by Xanthos.  Xanthos-Letoon is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Turkey. For this reason, it has been registered in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. Letoon has been under excavation since the 1950's and since 1962 by the French Archaeological Mission, in conjunction with the excavations being carried out at Xanthos. Excavation goes on today - the team has done some excellent work and in recent years has begun to restore the Temple of Leto. 

Letoon is a romantic site and many of the monuments arise from standing water which provides lush vegetation.  Terrapins and frogs are usually seen.  Unfortunately though, the high water table hinders excavation.

To reach Letoon, you turn west one km beyond the road from Kinik to Fethiye and continue 5 km.  It's not far from Patara and a day trip from Kalkan, Kaş or Fethiye to Letoon or Xanthos could easily be combined with a trip to the beach and/or ruins there. 

Several finds from Letoon (as well as artifacts from other sites), including the important Trilingual Stele from Letoon, bearing inscriptions in Greek, Lycian and Aramaic, (crucial in the deciphering of the Lycian language) can be seen in the Fethiye Museum.

Mythology

According to a legend told by Ovid the latin poet, the nymph Leto was loved by Zeus and gave birth to her twins fathered by him, Atemis and Apollo on the island of Delos.  Zeus' jealous wife Hera pursued Leto and chased her with the twins to Anatolia where she came to the place of Letoon.  Here she tried to quench her thrist at a spring but local shepherds attempted to chase her from the water - until she turned them into frogs in retaliation.  Another story gives the twins' birthplace as the source of the Xanthos River and another story says that wolves helped her find the Xanthos River. In gratitude she named the country Lycia: Lykos is Greek for wolf.

This mythology has been a popular subject in art.  See a painting of the Ovid's legend of shepherds turned into frogs: Landscape with Leto and Peasants of Lykia by Hendrick de Clerck.

History

Mosaic in the temple to ApolloLetoon was a sanctuary precinct and not actually a city, and seems to have had no major settlement associated with it at any period.  It was administered by Xanthos and was the spiritual heart of Lycia, its federal sanctuary and the place of national festivals.  Letoon was the center of pagan cults activity until perhaps the 5th century AD when Lycia was ravaged by Arab attacks and the area started to silt up with sand brought by the Xanthos River.  It is believed to have been abandonded by the 7th century AD. 

Archaeological finds date back to the late 6th century BC.  During the Archaic and Classical periods (7th-5th century BC) the site was probably sacred to to the cult of an earlier mother goddess (Eni Mahanahi in Lycia), which was later superseded by the worship of Leto.  Click here to see archeaological evidence of mother goddess worship found at Letoon, from the late 6th century BC.

During Roman Times, the Emperor Hadrian founded an emperor worship cult at the site.  Christianity later replaced pagan beliefs and in the 5th century AD a chuch was built using stones from the old temples.

An inscription found at Letoon refers to the establishment of the cult as well as its rules for monthly and annual sacrifices - offenders against this were found guilty before Leto, her children and the Nymphs. The Lycian cult of Leto was one of the many forms of the wide-spread mother-goddess religion which originated in ancient Anatolia and spread throughout the ancient world.  It is noteworthy that a woman was allowed to preside over the national assembly that was held each autumn at Letoon - perhaps a reminder of the ancient matriarchal customs in Anatolia.
 

Main phases of the layout of the sanctuary:

In Classical times, some isolated edifices were built on terraces laid out between the hill and the holy spring.

In Greek times, temples and porticoes were erected in a a regular grid.

In Roman times, the Nymphaeum was re-designed in baroque style

In Byzantine times, a basilica was built on the altar's terrace, which dominated a site progressively covered by water.

The sanctuary was once bordered by large porticoes, where pilgrims could rest and which closed off the site.  The three temples were erected on podiums, which is typical of Lycian architecture. They offered a spectacular view to pilgrims walking up the Holy Street from the propylon (a monument gateway leading to the sanctuary) which was located down the platform where the temples and altars were built. 

The site exends further to the south, but this area has yet to be excavated.

Map of the site
 

Restoration:

Xanthos-Letoon Restoration Project

Same page, in French, but with some photos of how Letoon's Leto temple may have looked. 

Excavations:

Recent findings during excavations
 


 Features of Letoon include:

Photos of the temple of Leto and its decorative elements

Photos of the temples of Apollo (with beautiful mosaic) and Artemis
 

 Letoon, nymphaeum
 

Letoon, basilica

Letoon, mosaic near basilica

 

Letoon, amphitheatre

Photos of the amphitheatre
 

Letoon - porticoes
 

Letoon sarcophagus