Xanthos was the capital city of the Lycian Federation and its greatest city for most of Lycian history. It was made famous to the Western world in the 19th century by its British discoverer Charles Fellows. It is very old - finds date back to the 8th century BC, but it is possible that the site may have existed during the Bronze Age or during the first centuries of the Iron Age
Pillar tombs at Xanthos ("Harpy Tomb" on the right)
Xanthos and Letoon are often seen as a "double-site", since the two were closely linked and Letoon was administered by Xanthos. Letoon was the sacred cult center of Lycia, located less than 10 km to the south of 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. Currently there is a French team excavating Xanthos and Letoon.
Xanthos is not far from Patara and a trip to Letoon or Xanthos from Kalkan, Kaş or Fethiye could easily be combined with a trip to the beach and/or ruins there. It is located near the village of Kınık on a hillside in a beautiful natural site overlooking the Eşen river. From this elevation one receives a supreme view of the Xanthos Valley surrounded by the spectacular Taurus Mountains. It is easy to find by car, just off the main highway and well-marked. Xanthos' landscape is quite beautiful, especially in spring.
The history of Xanthos is quite a violent - the Xanthosians twice demonstrated the fierce independence of the Lycian people when they chose to commit mass suicide rather than submit to invading forces. The Xanthosian men set fire to their women, children, slaves and treasure upon the acropolis before making their final doomed attack upon the invading Persians. Xanthos was later repopulated but the same gruesome story repeated itself in 42 BC when Brutus attacked the city during the Roman civil wars in order to recruit troops and raise money. Brutus was shocked by the Lycians' suicide and offered his soldiers a reward for each Xanthosian saved. Only 150 citizens were rescued.
We made our houses graves
And our graves are homes to us
Our houses burned down
And our graves were looted
We climbed to the summits
We went deep into the earth
We were drenched in water
They came and got us
They burned and destroyed us
They plundered us
For the sake of our mothers,
And for the sake of our dead,
In the name of our honor,
And our freedom,
We, the people of this land,
Who sought mass suicide
We left a fire behind us,
Never to die out...
Poem found on a tablet in the Xanthos excavations, translated by Azra Erhat
Xanthos became the
seat of an archbishopric in the 8th century, but was
deserted during the first wave of Arab raids in the 7th century.
Although Charles Fellows carried away most of the finds of Xanthos (now in the British Museum) many interesting monuments and structures remain, including two of the most interesting tombs in Lycia.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing Fellows took from Xanthos was The Nereid Monument, a very large and elaborate Lycian tomb dating from about 380 BC, an interesting mix of Greek and Lycian styles. Other notable objects taken were the lovely Lion Tomb and the Tomb of Payava.
Click here to learn more about the British Museum's Lycian Collection, largely taken from Xanthos
Remaining base of the Nereid Monument at Xanthos
Features of Xanthos include:
The so-called 'Harpy Tomb'
C. 5th century BC. Sitting upon a massive base
is a thick pillar with a grave-chamber and crowning slabs, standing
about 7.5 metres high.
The chamber at the top was marble and decorated with splendid marble reliefs. If you click on the photo of panel 1 (below) you will see the reason this tomb is called the "Harpy Tomb"; it was previously believed that the winged women figures in the freize were harpies (monsters from Greek mythology with the head of a woman and the body of a bird). It is now thought that these figures may depict sirens carrying off the souls of the dead.
In these reliefs we see the use of isocephaly, that is, the convention often used in Greek relief sculpture whereby the heads of the figures are placed at nearly the same level, regardless of whether the figure is standing, seated or in another position. This convention provides harmony by avoiding unpleasing blank spaces and can give greater dignity to a seated figure because of its larger size.
The original reliefs were taken by Charles Fellows and are now in the British Museum but have been replaced by some nice casts.
An original relief panel at the British Museum
A completely unique tomb in Lycia, actually two-tombs-in-one - a normal Lycian sarcophagus stands upon a shorter-than-usual pillar tomb. It is quite tall, only slightly shorter than the Harpy Tomb. The date of this tomb is disputed, some sources say 4th century BC, other 3rd.
century BC, a tall pillar tomb covered with Greek and the longest Lycian
inscription known to exist (250 lines) on all four sides. This writing was
instrumental in helping to begin to understand the riddle of the difficult
Lycian language, though the writing on it is not completely understood.
This tomb sits at the northeast corner of what was the Roman Agora, built in the
2nd or 3rd century AD to replace the older agora.
It once consisted of a pillar mounted on two stepped krepis, a funerary chamber (now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum), a projecting horizontal roof and a crowning.
Probably dates from the 2nd century AD and is thought to have been built in the same site as the earlier Hellenistic one. Only the upper rows of the auditorium are missing, having been used as construction material for the northern wall of the acropolis. The stage building is still partially standing and was once of two storeys and decorated with columns.
|overlooking the theatre and agora||carvings at the theatre|
Acropolis No. 1
On the southwest corner, above the amphitheatre, probably constructed in the 4th century BC. Ruins of a temple thought to be dedicated to Artemis are found here, as well as the foundations of a large structure consisting of many rooms, probably a palace that was destroyed by the Persian general Harpagus. From here you get a great view of the entire valley and the Eşen River.
Recently excavated street, once lined with shops on both sides and probably once spanned by an arched gate. At the southeast of the excavated road are the remains of an arcade of shops and a Byzantine Basillica. An agora was built on top of the shops in the Roman/Byzantine period.
|Road||Arcade of shops||Nearby carving|
Built over an earlier Roman temple, to the east of the Lycian acropolis. Magnificent mosaics have been found in the basilica (now covered and protected).
Acropolis No. 2
From an later date than acropolis no. 1, situated to the northeast of the agora, containing the ruins of a Byzantine monastery. Behind this are parts of Byzantine walls.
Lies to the east of the second acropolis, many tombs and sarcophagi with interesting reliefs and lids.
Other interesting features:
|Lycian tomb next to the amphitheatre|
|Ancient pipe that may have supplied water to a fountain (near the Pillar and Harpy Tomb).|
3D Reconstruction Models of Xanthos
Some great computer models:
The Acropolis of Xanthos
(be sure to click on the links at the bottom of the page to see models of buildings "F", "G" and "H".