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Between Goceck and Bodrum: the Southern Shore of Caria

It is no good just looking at classical ruins, you must quest after them: teezing out passionate stories from theatre benches, empty tombs and deserted temple podia. Beneath the rich narrative of dynasty, war and dominion there is a deeper millenial struggle at play, between the influence of the Mediterranean and the Anatolian hinterland. The attractions of the rich, wide and stimulating Hellenistic world, as represented by the colonies of Dorian Greeks, such as Cnidos, are set against the ancient virtues of the Carian motherland. Caria was one of the dozen indigenous cultures of Western Anatolia. It had its own language, its own deities, its own hereditary allies and sacred sanctuaries. It was primarily a land of villages, grouped under cities who met together in federal league to vote on common policy. Seldom, if ever, the aggressor in war, Caria was yet capable of defending her independence with dauntless vigour. Her frontiers stretched from lake Koycegiz to the river Meander (Menderes), that is from Miletus to Caunus. A boat trip from Goceck to Bodrum takes you along the southern half of the Carian shore. It necessarily skirts the ancient heartland of Caria which was centred inland around Milas.

Caunus is a magical site, opposite Dalyan, perched between the mountains and river and half-submerged in reedy marshland. Beloved by mosqitoes, it was considered notoriously unhealthy and insular even in ancient times. Caunus is now celebrated for its row of tombs carved into a cliff-face. These are of exceptional grandeur, especially as Carian tombs are usually carved into rock below ground and sealed with a stone lid. Excavations in the city centre have also revealed a theatre, an early basilica church, a temple, library, stoa and a curious circular structure with internal pool. Hellenistic walls drape the surrounding hills with medieval towers added to the old acropolis. Caunus is reached not from the beach but up the serpentine coils of the tidal Dalyan Cayi. If your boat has too deep a draught use one of the boat taxis that run past Caunus on their run between beach, the resort town of Dalyan and lake Koycegiz.

Sailing east from Caunus across the Marmaris Bay it is possible to halt at the landing beside the headland of Hisarburnu. This brings you neatly to the ruins of Asarcik, ancient Amos. This is one of the eastern-most settlements by which the Dorian Greeks of Cos and Rhodes controlled the craggy Loryma penininsula. The Acropolis of Amos is still crowned with a 12 foot high Hellenistic wall. The theatre is on the north-east slope and a small temple (presumed to be dedicated to Apollo) stands to the west.

The Gerbekilise landing for the hill village of Bayir makes an attractive picnic spot with its cluster of ruined Byzantine chapels.

Further west, but before Cape Kara, keep a look out for an ancient fortress draped over a narrow headland. It guards the entrance to the naval harbour of Loryma (Bozuk), which controlled these straits and the strategic approach to Rhodes, the most important city of the Dorian hexapolis.

Rounding Cape Kizil brings you into Sombeki bay, sheltered by the island of Simi. Within this bay there is the village of Saranda, above which perches the ancient Acropolis of Thyssanus, though a more likely anchorage for the night will be made at Bozburun.

Tucked into the reclusive north-east corner of the island scattered bay of Selimiye, or Reeds, is the village of Hisaronu. Between it and the sea is the Acropolis of Bybassus, covered by ruins of ancient and medieval fortifications. An hours climb up the slopes of Eren Dagi brings a modern-day pilgrim to the site of the healing sanctuary of the Goddess Hemithea.

Sailing west along the peninsula it is easy to identify the site of Old Cnidus, overlooking the one fertile valley along this stretch of coast. The sherd-strewn slopes of the Acropolis are a mile from the Datca pier.

Having passed the fishing village of Palamutbükü, you round Cape Texir to approach Cnidus (or Knidos). These ruins, which can still only be reached by boat, are one the most celebrated antique sites of the Mediterranean. Not for the quality of the surviving architecture but because of its unequalled position, seemingly perched on the western-most extremity of Anatolia. The rocky headland, linked by an ancient causeway to the mainland, shelters two harbours. The naval, or trireme, harbour, overlooked by the Agora and a pair of Byzantine churches, is just a fifth the size of the commercial harbour to its south. The bulk of the excavated city stands to the north of this great anchorage. On the heights above the walls march up to the Acropolis. However it is neither these, nor the two theatres, temples and churches, that draw the imagination as much as a simple circular podium on the northern edge of the city. This is believed to be the site of the world renowned temple of Cinidan Aphrodite.

The citizens of old Cnidus, assisted by the other five great cities of the Dorian Hexapolis, established new Cnidus here in 360 BC. To add glory to their foundation they commissioned statues from all the great contemporary sculptors of the day. Scopas carved a celebrated Athena, Bryaxis a famous Dionysus while Praxiteles's Aphrodite was fated to become the acknowledged masterpiece of the ancient world. Aphrodite Euoplia, 'of the good winds', was the patroness of Cnidus, whose image was also placed on the city coinage. Hundreds of fine copies were made but Cnidus never agreed to surrender the original statue, which has evaded archaeologists despite a century of digging.

From Cnidus it is just a half-day sail across Gokova Bay to the attractions of Bodrum (Halicarnassus). Few boats have the time to explore the long indented coastline of the bay. The most important sites in this region are the Carian cities of Cedreae and Ceramus (Keramos). The latter, sunk in marsh and much despoiled by its villagers, is probably only of interest to experts. Cedreae, 'the cedar tree', has been left in romantic isolation on the offshore island of Sedir Aga (just five miles west of Gelibolu), overlooked by its necropolis on the mainland shore.

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