The Turquoise Coast Feature

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Ancient Cultures of Lycia & Its Neighbors

Turkey's Mediterranean coast is steeped in 5,000 years of history—so much so that in Side, the hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs are literally built into the ruins of the Greco-Roman city.

Broadly speaking, the geographic divisions of the coastline of ancient times survive today. The westernmost area from from Datça to Dalyan was part of Caria, an ancient Hellenistic kingdom based in nearby Bodrum/Halicarnassus. Caria reached the height of its power in the 4th century BC, and the tomb of its most famous ruler, Mausolus, was such a wonder of the world that it coined the word mausoleum. From Dalyan to Phaselis the coast is thought of as Lycia, after a people of very ancient but uncertain origin, some of whom possibly colonized this section of the Anatolian coast from Crete. It now hosts small-scale hotels and harmonious yachting ports. From Antalya to Alanya is the area called Pamphilia, thought to mean "the land of the tribes," much of which is now quite built up and commercial.

Caria, Lycia, and Pamphilia share much the same, rather obscure, history and museums (the best is in Antalya) exhibit relics from Bronze Age settlements that date back to 3000 BC. Our knowledge of indigenous cultures is patchy, but notable in many ways. In Homer's epic, Lycia's Sarpedon memorably declaims that the privileges of the elite must be earned by the elite's readiness to fight for their people. And while not a matriarchal society, Lycians are thought to have been matrilineal and gave women a more equal place than, say, ancient Greece. Some locals were fiercely independent and the people of Xanthos, for example, committed mass suicide rather than submit to the first Persian conquest, and later burned their city (again) rather than pay extra taxes to Rome's Brutus. In addition, the democratic, federal basis of the Lycian League is acknowledged as one source of the U.S. constitution.

Overall, the population of this whole area has long been a mixture of waves of new arrivals, from Greek colonists to Persian administrators, retired Roman legionaries and Turkic shepherds, to today's sun-seekers. Despite wars, plagues, and population exchanges, however, there is some degree of continuity: genetic tests discovered that all two dozen of the local workers on a site north of Antalya were related to the bones that they had just dug out from 1,300-year-old graves.

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