Turkey’s World Heritage: Xanthos-Letoon on the historical Lycian Way

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Turkey’s World Heritage: Xanthos-Letoon on the historical Lycian Way

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Turkey’s world heritage has always dazzled people from all around the world. Home to dozens of civilizations, Turkey hosts many outstanding historical sites. Because the country once was the cradle of deep-seated Greek and Roman civilizations. As summer is here and coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, you need to visit them soon. Troy, Ephesus, Hierapolis, Göbeklitepe, and Pergamon are some of those historical heritages in Turkey.

Xanthos World Heritage Center (Image Credit-UNESCO WHC)
Xanthos World Heritage Center (Image Credit-UNESCO WHC)

Today, we are going to introduce you to another historical treasure located in the southwestern part of Anatolia. What we are mentioning is the archaeological complex of Xanthos-Letoon.

Where is Xanthos-Letoon?

Xanthos-Letoon takes place within the boundaries of Turkey’s Antalya and Muğla provinces. It is perhaps the grandest and most unique architectural example of the ancient Lycian civilization. The treasure was one of the most important cultures of the Iron Age in Anatolia. Further, it was the first example that people established a democratic union in history. In fact, in an ancient world full of fighting and bloody wars, Lycians managed to live a harmonious and peaceful life under a stable form of democracy.

Turkey’s World Heritage Xanthos-Letoon: Combination of Civilizations

The two neighboring historical settlements are the living proof of the continuity and unique combination of the Anatolian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine civilizations.

Xanthos Lenoon is situated within the boundaries of Turkey’s Antalya and Muğla provinces. (Image Credit-Daily Sabah)
Xanthos Lenoon is situated within the boundaries of Turkey’s Antalya and Muğla provinces. (Image Credit-Daily Sabah)

To start with Xanthos, it was first a center of culture and commerce for the Lycians. Persians, Greeks, and Romans later taking turns to conquer the city and occupy adjoining territory. Also known as Xanthus, the former Byzantine bishopric remains a Latin Catholic titular see. After the Byzantine Empire dissolved in the 15th century with the fall of Constantinople, the region came under Turkish rule.

Home to Some Magnificent Ancient Monuments

Xanthos is a surviving example of Lycian traditions and especially its funerary art. It has magical rock-cut tombs, pillar tombs, and pillar-mounted sarcophagi. So, Xanthos is home to some unique examples of ancient burial edifices.

The Ancient City of Patara. (Image Credit-Pinterest)
The Ancient City of Patara. (Image Credit-Pinterest)

East of the Xanthos River (most commonly famous as Eşen Çayı in Turkey), the river on which the city takes place, lies the Lycians’ first monumental zone. The old Lycian Acropolis, which was remodeled during the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods, lies in the zone. During Byzantine and Hellenistic times, they built a church at the northeast corner. On the other hand, an advanced defensive structure protected the western side of the citadel along the river.

Letoon (Letoum): The Cult Center of Xantos

Letoon (Letoum), on the other hand, was the cult center of Xanthos. It was the ancient federal sanctuary of the Lycian province and the Lycian League of Cities. The center was one of the most important religious centers in the region at the time. It is in the south of the village Kumluova in Muğla’s Fethiye district. So, Letoon is about 4 kilometers (2 1/2 miles) south of Xanthos along the Xanthos River.

Historical Lycian Way is a perfect route to explore Turkey's Southern coasts. (Image Credit-Ottsworld)
Historical Lycian Way is a perfect route to explore Turkey’s Southern coasts. (Image Credit-Ottsworld)

Archaeological finds at the site, though never a fully-occupied settlement but still, an essential religious center of its time. So, it dates back to the late sixth century B.C. During excavations, archaeologists unearthed many inscriptions at the site. Perhaps the most famous one, the trilingual inscription which dates back to 337 B.C. It features a text in Lycian and Greek coupled with an Aramaic summary. The inscription was discovered near the temple of Apollo, the Olympian God of sun and light. Letoon also had a nymphaeum dating back to Hadrian, built on a water source that was considered sacred, though now only ruins remain.

Splendid Universal Value of Turkey’s World Heritage

The archaeological twin sites Xanthos and Letoon have been on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list since 1988. As the center of ancient Lycia, Xanthos has attracted many students of Anatolian civilization since the early 19th century. Archaeologists and specialists found many important artifacts in the city. Two tombs, the Nereid Monument and the Tomb of Payava are now on display at the British Museum in London. The Harpy Tomb still takes place within the ancient city and its ruins.

Turkey is a cradle of many ancient civilizations. (Image Credit-World Heritage Academy)
Turkey is a cradle of many ancient civilizations. (Image Credit-World Heritage Academy)

“Xanthos-Letoon strikingly illustrates the continuity and unique combination of the Anatolian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine civilizations. It is also in Xanthos-Letoon that you can find the most important texts in the Lycian language. The inscriptions engraved in rock or on huge stone pillars on the site are crucial for a better understanding of the history of the Lycian people. Moreover, their Indo-European language,” UNESCO says on its website.

Scientists consider the inscriptions on the ruins as exceptional evidence of this unique and long-forgotten Indo-European language.

While You are Here…

Turkey’s Antalya and Muğla provinces are not only famous for their historical sites but also their outstanding natural beauties. The provinces are like a haven for those planning a holiday with sandy beaches, alluring caves, and other natural attractions.

Patara Beach is Turkey's longest beach that attracts millions of Turkeys from the world. (Image Credit-Property Turkey)
Patara Beach is Turkey’s longest beach that attracts millions of Turkeys from the world. (Image Credit-Property Turkey)

A prestigious German online hotel reservation website marked the 13 most beautiful beaches in Turkey. So, 11 out of those are located in Antalya and Muğla. One of the most popular beaches in Antalya’s Kaş district is the 12-kilometer-long Patara beach, which is commonly famous as one of the longest beaches in the region. It is located close to another famous ancient city – Patara, the capital of the ancient Lycian civilization. Turkey also declared 2020 as the year of Patara to highlight its undersubscribed cultural value.

Patara was a flourishing maritime and commercial city on the southwest coast of Lycia on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. It is said to be the birthplace of St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) in 270 A.D. He lived most of his life in the nearby town of Myra (nowadays known as Demre). The ancient city has great historical riches such as an amphitheater, a historic lighthouse, paved streets, baths, a Roman triumphal arch, the Tepecik cemetery, a basilica, and various, temples.

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