Who were the Lycians? It’s a good question… and not one with an easy answer. The records of these ancient people aren’t as detailed or numerous as their contemporaries. There are a lot of assumptions that need to be made when putting together a clear picture of the Lycians.
It’s a question worth asking as a visitor to Turkey, though. The ruins of their civilisation are spread out across a significant part of the country and the sites are an important part of any historical tour of the region.
What we do know is that they lived in the area which is now central Turkey, stretched between Antalya and Fethiye from at least 1500 BC (although probably from much earlier) until about the 6th century AD. Their location put them right at the nexus of Greece and the Eastern world – and this meant they picked up influences from both sides.
Unlike most groups during this period, the Lycians were not barbaric. They were actually respected for having an extremely stable form of democracy within their political structure. Not only were they unusually harmonious internally, but they managed to avoid too many major conflicts with their neighbours. They have been compared to the Swiss of today: wealthy, hard-working, neutral but defensive.
Even today, the capital of Lycia gives you the impression that this was a civilisation that was able to do things on a grand scale. The twin sites of Xanthos and Letoon are only about 60 kilometres from Fethiye but are slightly tricky to get to if you don’t know what you’re doing. They are not an obvious stop for tourists passing through although tour buses of Turkish locals are more likely to stop there.
It’s a pity, because both locations (which are about five kilometres apart and I easily walked between) have a lot to offer. Not only are they an interesting insight into the Lycian culture but also they show the influences that came from both the west and east.
So, here in photos, are some of the highlights of the two sites.
The amphitheatre at Letoon:
The temple of Artemis in Letoon:
The nymphaeum at Letoon:
The amphitheatre at Xanthos:
The ‘Harpy tombs’ at Xanthos:
The hill tombs at Xanthos: