Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ancient Myra from Finike

Today I decide to drive to nearby Myra. This is where Santa Claus was buried, not the legend but the real man, Saint Nicolas, of course. His grave is still here although his remains were stolen by Italian merchants in 1087 and taken to Bari, Italy. 

After Finike the coastal road follows the contours of the landscape with every curve around the capes and inside the bays, offering rewarding views at each and every turn. It feels strange to be driving on this well-maintained road that I seem to know so well looking at it from the gulet when I sailed these waters last year. It appeared as a horizontal scar in the landscape, now a winding ribbon of asphalt that is not free of danger from falling rocks. But I enjoy every mile of it. Soon enough I enter the modern town of Demre that fills the entire bay and I am happy to see that there are plenty of road signs directing me to ancient Myra.

Most of the ancient city lie underneath today’s Demre and is hidden under five meters of alluvial silts from the Demre River. This large plain is now almost entirely covered with greenhouses stuffed with tomatoes – very efficient but not exactly a sight for sore eyes.

Myra was first mentioned in the 1st century BC when it was one of the six leading cities of the Lycian League (with Xanthos, Tlos, Pinara, Patara and Olympos) but its origins are believed to go back to the 5th century BC. The name was spelled MYRRH and the Lycian coins bear the abbreviation ΛΥΚΙΩΝ ΜΥ. Myra once had a great Temple of Artemis Eleuthera (a distinctive form of Cybele), said to be Lycia's largest and most splendid building. However St. Nicolas had the temple completely destroyed. How dared he?!

The ancient city was terribly hit by the earthquake in 141 AD and our friend Opramoas of Rhodiapolis donated no less than 200,000 denarii for its reconstruction, together with two other benefactors, Licinus Langus of Oenoanda and Jason of Kyaenai. Under Emperor Theodosius II it became the capital of the Byzantine Eparchy Lycia. Myra lost one-third of its population to the plague in 542-543 AD, and after subsequent Muslim raids, flooding and earthquakes, it was mostly abandoned by the 11th century. 

Plainly visible upon arrival is the Greco-Roman Theater of Myra chiseled into the rock and said to be the largest in Lycia and the third largest in Turkey. This is where I start. It is indeed quite impressive and I manage to arrive before the busloads of tourists. I walk between interesting debris of carved stones from the Theater showing theatrical masks and beautiful reliefs of birds, mythological scenes and, of course, the ever-present Three Muses. Then I climb all the way to the top, 38 rows above the skene for a complete overview of the modern town of Demre and to get a feeling of what the theater-goers in early times must have seen looking towards the sea. Several rows lower I walk the well-preserved diazoma whose facade is rich with inscriptions, niches, and reliefs. The holes in the terraces once held wooden posts to which sunshades could be fastened, just like I have seen before in Limyra and Arykanda. A real touch of luxury, and why not? It seems that in the 3rd century AD the theater was even used as a circus and for water sports!

Left of the Theater, I can’t miss seeing the many Lycian tombs cut out in the face of the rocks, but they are not accessible for visitors; only the ones in the eastern necropolis are. So I set off to that side but then I don’t find any path in spite of my repeated attempts through the orange groves and medlar orchards. I see a signpost indicating that the Lycian Way passes here, but I wish the backpacker good luck to find out where he is going for I can’t and honestly, after yesterday’s experience hunting for Rhodiapolis I lack the energy to investigate much further. An old woman kindly tries to put me back on track, handing me a couple of sweet apples, but in vain! OK, that was that.

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