Lycean Olympos,Turkey. True city of the Gods?

While Hittites lived inland and had no iron, the sea trading ports of Lycea grew. Cities populated by thousands living on trade off the agriculture bounty from the hinterland. So Persians invade, Alexander the Great passed and secured links and Persians came back and went. Cretian pirates took over, and fearing defeat burnt all their women and children in the Temple at Olympos, but Lycea, and so Olympos, slowly absorbed the Hellenic writing, and architecture but not political hegemony from the Greeks and later the Romans.20160413 Olympos Harbour front 2

The Lycean league, a league of city states along the Anatolian coast with richness and opulence.  Unlike the Greeks they did not war, and their systems were studied by the Americans 1000’s of years later for their own constitution. Pamphylia was larger than Olympos, but all writing suggest our city was still a city of beauty and wealth and richness. 20160413 Olympos main road to bridge with shopsIts tombs attest to the wealth of its trading citizens, in an age when corn, for armies to march on, grew like gold in the terraced hills and high plateaus behind the mountains.  One look at Bridge street, paved and lined with shops, shows how rich its market place was.Today the Turks have agriculture and water but long for oil, but back then they were the richest country in the known world.

Olympos, so small it has been largely ignored as historically insignificant is slowly coming out of the ground.  Its amphitheatre suggests a city of 5000, with continuous history of over 1000 years. It still has a bishops see in the catholic church, on paper at least. 20160413 Theatre entrance Olympos 2Vespasian came here, and Marcus Aurelius, Julius Caesar and the well travelled Hadrian. Records show it had the top ranking number of votes in the Lycean league of cities, three votes was the same as Pamphylia. And all writers spoke of its beauty and opulence, so was it all just from trading in wheat?

Imagine a city hidden between two rocky outcrops of rock where a river neck squeezes itself into the sea.  The big ships have to wait outside as barges enter between two narrow cliffs and castle defences. 20160413 Olympos roman to genose castle at mouthA traveller would see tall white limestone buildings all along the harbour front, built up alongside the river banks. A three span bridge arches over the river where the barges go under and then queue to load up from the grain stores.  The river is lower today than in ancient times, but the harbour front still runs long the lower river. The Agora is three stories high of glistening white, next to it the traveller can see the Temple of Nitto, the Lycean god, who later made way for the Greek pantheon. If they disembarked and walked over the bridge they could buy goods from the shops and go to the baths, all on paved streets of white. Listening to the debates of the town in the theatre a traveller could then pay respects to the dead, who were buried in tombs within the city walls, close to the business areas.20160413 Olympos Sarcophagus 2 Keeping ones ancestors close is so different to Greeks and Romans who bury them on the outside of their cities. Lycea is different, a syncretic mix of cultures and a place where emperors came to find the meaning of life.

For not only was it a glistening white city built on the wealth of wheat, and fantastically protected by its natural harbour walls of mountains and sea cliffs, but it was a religious city close to the home of the gods. Mount Olympos can be seen by any of the ships hanging majestically in the air at 8000 feet above the sea, of over 20 classical Olympus mountains though the city had a greater claim.  Sailors and philosophers, emperors and priests would sail and look at night, peering in to the dark hinterland of Lycea and see the amazing sight of the Chimera flames leaping of the mountain side just outside the city. 20160413 Cimera flames near Olympos 4Proof of a religious home for the gods near by. A dragon of course is imprisoned there, caught with the help of Pegasus and a hapless princeling. So rich were the philosophers of Olympos that their tombs were the best in town as the great and good visited to find out the meaning of life. 20160413 Lycean Tomb of Akestis the philosopherAlkestis died a wealthy man, which cant be said for many academics, even if he only passed on the gossip found in the great journey of the Aeneid.

So from the Lycean god Nitto, to the Hellenic choices and then Romans. No one invaded as the trading city shared its wealth and access to the power of the gods.  Signs of Mithrail and Zoroastrians from Persia, which was the cult of the roman legions, soon morphed in to the early Christianity, 20160413 Cimera Ancient church drawingsperhaps on its way to Constantinople rather than after the emperor’s decree.  The latest remains to be uncovered was not just the later bishops palace and church, but a full cathedral complex of the early 4th century, the largest in Christendom.  20160413 olympus Byzantine cathedral, biggest in worldThe power of god was still strong in Olympos despite the decline in the city. The bridge no longer lead to a gleaming theatre and Vespasion’s baths as pirates and trade declined and that half of the city was abandoned.  But the city a traveller would find was still impressive, impressive enough the Genoese to invest in defending it as a wealthy trading post till abandoned in the mid 16th century.

With God and mammon on its side Olympos is being rediscovered as an important early Christian sight, important Roman/Hellenic sight, and the religious center of the Lycean league of cities.

We leave from the beach to visit the flames on the Chimera, but I see behind me a renaissance painting of a ship waiting outside a harbour.20160413 Olympos Harbour front In the distance part ruins of white buildings lie along side a river teeming with barges. Men in robes with writing equipment count the barges, load the goods and haggle in the Agora, gleaming in the sun while the other temples have people at prayer, taking their offerings.  Craggy cliffs and creeping twines hang above the city just waiting patiently to silently re invade once God and Mammon sleep. I have seen the painting, but cant quite remember where.

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