The Carian spirit lives on in southwest Anatolia


The Carian spirit lives on in southwest Anatolia


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The Carians were powerful, resilient, bold and with a character that always sought independence - not unlike an extension of today's Anatolian person into the past - The full moon is somehow different in Caria (Karia or Karya in Turkish), the western Anatolian homeland of the ancient civilization of the Carians that is demarcated by the Büyük Menderes River in the north and the Dalaman River in the south. 


Caria's second capital Halicarnassus, Bodrum, Muğla, Turkey Atlas Photo by CÜNEYT OĞUZTÜZÜN

The moon is so bright and so close, you feel as if you could touch if only you could stretch just a little more. One night a few years ago during the full moon in August, a group of scientists and archaeologists could not refrain from going to Lagina (an ancient Carian city in Yatağan near Milas) and entered the sacred Hekate region. In the sacred area of the Goddess Hekate, they wrapped themselves in white sheets, prepared a meal featuring bread, fish, cheese, eggs and garlic that was similar to those offered to the goddess of the crossroads, and spent the night there.

Hekate was a Carian goddess full of mysteries. She was not incorporated into the Greek pantheon but had Anatolian roots instead. She was the goddess of the night, magic, witchcraft, fortunetellers, the underworld, spirits, ghosts, ill fate, hunters and women. She is depicted as having three faces that hold the power of the sky, the sea and the underworld. Her three-faced statue was placed at crossroads and junctions so that she could watch over everything. She was sometimes depicted as having three heads on one body or as having three bodies with six arms. In the book titled “Karia Efsaneleri” (Legends of Caria), Hekate’s character was so impressive that plain text was inadequate to describe her. A poem is the only thing that could do the job:

I, Hekate,

I, a descendant from the noble Titans generation,

I, born of Titans Perses and Asteria,

I, the appointer of birth, life and death,

I, the goddess of the underworld,

Of the moon’s dark side, silence of the night,

Owner of crossroads, I, 

Can see the past, present and the future,

Rule the underworld, the sky and the sea,

I am Hekate from Anatolia.

The most significant known cult center for Hekate is a temple in the sacred area of Lagina in Turgut, Yatağan, in the southwestern province of Muğla. The festivities and feasts organized here in the honor of the goddess were sacred for the Carians.  Lagina was connected to the administrative center Stratonikeia with a sacred road stretching 9.5 kilometers; an inscription on the wall of the city hall was a perfect proof of this. A feast called “Kleidophoros” (Key-carrying Feast) was held every year during the harvest. A girl, in company of a magnificent procession made up of a chorus of young girls and priests chanting hymns, carried the key of the underworld to the city hall in Stratonikeia and would take it back with the same ceremony. This ritual showed that the key to the underground was held by Hekate and that the administrative center was Stratonikeia.

Also, there were Hekatasia festivities celebrated every four years and festivals observed every year during the full moon in the month of August in honor of the birthday of the goddess. Again, during every full moon, there were ceremonies conducted at crossroads. Hekate was the goddess of birth-giving women, travelers and the poor, and at the same time she represented power with her feature as the key holder of the underworld. Later, however, with the change in society’s rationale and belief systems, she became associated with a much darker character, and her identity, as the goddess of magic, witchcraft and witches, stood out. 

Although the administrative center Stratonikeia, sometimes referred to as a city formed by the Selevkos, historians of the ancient world write that its first name was Khrysaros and all the members of the city council were of Car origin. This beautiful city on the Milas-Muğla highway decorated completely with marble sculptures is still resisting being swallowed up the surrounding coalmines. However, the ceremonial road, which went all the way to Lagina with lion statues on both sides, was destroyed because of coalmines within the last 10 years. Recent excavations, however, have started to bring out the glory of the city. 

The most magnificent period of the Carians is marked by the dynasty starting with Governor Mausolos’ grandfather, Hekatomnidler during the 4th century B.C. In turn, grandfather Hyssaldomos, father Hekatomnos and son Mausolos took power in Mylasa. Mausolos immediately moved the capital from Mylasa to Halicarnassus for geopolitical reasons. During the Mausolos era, Halicarnassus became the capital, a major port and a significant trade center, glowing bright and far. The city was furnished with contemporary buildings including a theater with seating for 9,000 people while the city walls were also rebuilt. Since Mausolos was a warrior, he prioritized fortification throughout his life. City walls fortified with towers were built in Kaunos, Latmos Heraklea and Iasos, consequently leaving behind structures bearing the best examples of the era’s stone craftsmanship. But his most significant masterpiece was the mausoleum he started building with heavy taxes imposed on his people. This magnificent building was created as a synthesis of Eastern and Western cultures, with its unique architecture and perfect sculpting. While Governor Mausolos wished to immortalize his name with this masterpiece, he unknowingly left a legacy to world languages as the word “mausoleum” originated from his name.  When Mausolos died, his wife who was at the same time his sister, Artemisia II, continued the building work for the mausoleum, although her life did not last long enough to finish it and she died in 350 B.C. The artisans, however, did not quit their jobs, and they completed this enormous masterpiece without any pay, just for the sake of reputation and the honor of art. According to ancient historians, the monument had friezes depicting the battle between the Hellenes and the Amazons and other battles, carved with a perfect realism, reflecting the exact feelings of pain, fear, violence and hate in faces. 

The mausoleum stood for nearly 1,500 years before it collapsed in a major earthquake in Anatolia in 1304. The structure’s massive, green stones were used by knights to build the Bodrum Castle. The tomb chamber that was in the basement, almost buried underground, had obviously been robbed by the knights beforehand. 

Governor Mausolos’ 24-year-period of rule was the time when Caria started to integrate with the Hellenes. Labranda, or Labraunda, was a privileged cult center that hosted celebrations during the harvest and feasts of sacrifice, featuring ceremonial houses only for men. Labraunda was connected to the administrative center Mylasa with a sacred road, parts of which can be traced even today.

Resilient Caria - When Mausolos and his wife-sister died, his siblings Idreus, Ada and Piksadoras took the throne in turns until Alexander the Great arrived in Anatolia around 334 B.C. While Alexander was storming south through the Dardanelles at today’s Çanakkale, cities would present their golden keys to him. The people of Halicarnassus were the first to resist the young and powerful man. When Alexander could not enter the city through the gate of Mylasa, he besieged the city for three months. He destroyed and burned everything but despite all his rage did not touch the Mausoleum and continued his journey toward Lycia. Historian Arrinaus in his book “Anabasis of Alexander,” wrote in detail about the siege and how the people resisted. This siege was a heavy blow to Halicarnassus. The city suddenly lost its reputation and significance and was never able to return to its glory days.

Before Alexander arrived in Caria and before he besieged Halicarnassus, he visited Queen Ada, who had been exiled to Alinda by her brother. According to some sources, the meeting place was in the Milas Valley. After he conquered the city, he empowered Queen Ada to rule Caria. The exile city of the queen, Alinda (Karpuzlu), is one of those must-see Carian cities with its extremely impressive city walls built by Ada, two-story towers with windows, an amphitheater carved into rock and a monumental three-story agora. Queen Ada salutes visitors to the Carian Princess Hall at the Bodrum Underwater Archaeology Museum after having woken up from her eternal sleep of 2,400 years with her face and body reconstructed by experts from Manchester University.

After Alexander’s death, Caria and western Anatolia was left to the rule of generals, prompting endless fights and battles. By this time, cultural and political change had begun to occur with Alexander’s arrival in Anatolia and the ancient Greek language’s increasing dominance in the region, connecting Eastern and Western cultures.

Exactly 300 years after their first federation, the Carians convened a second Carian federation in the sacred Zeus Chrysaerous region near Stratonikeia to organize their scattered forces. Even though this federation survived until the 1st century B.C., Caria was already passed its prime. It was first ruled by the Kingdom of Pergamon (Bergama), then by the Roman Empire, which set them free. During the Roman era in the 2nd century A.D., Carian cities composed themselves and started developing their economic and civil works. The Roman structures, the ruins of which we see today in Caria, belong to this period of welfare. After the fall of the Roman Empire and its split into two, Caria was ruled by Byzantium and was a separate province. Caria, however, was slowly wiped from history and none of its glory has remained, just like many of the dozens of other civilizations that Anatolia has hosted. 

By the end of the 13th century, the Turks had come to dominate Caria, and it was a part of the Menteşe Principality. Even though there is evidence of the Knights of St. John being in Halicarnassss in the 15th century, the region was an Ottoman land at the time as Ottoman naval supremacy reached its peak in the Mediterranean. Despite the fact that many civilizations passed over them, the Carian spirit never died in this land. Even in the Republican era, they became “zeybek” or “efe,” heroic Aegean folk figures, with their heads held high and always proud. 

The Carians were one of the first settled populations in southwest Anatolia. Even though they were one of the smaller civilizations, they were powerful, resilient, bold and with a character that always sought independence – not unlike an extension of today’s Anatolian person into the past. 


Uzunyuva sarcophagus  - The Uzunyuva sarcophagus, believed to belong to Governor Mausolos or his father Hekatomnos, is in Milas, Muğla. Grave robbers bought a village house to be able to reach the tomb chamber, 12 meters below ground. They dug a tunnel and used carrot drills and water to pierce a thick marble block 1.65 meters high and enter the tomb chamber. Because of the excessive use of water and some septic tank leakage, the pictures on the marble blocks of the tomb chamber have been extensively damaged. But work is in progress to save the remaining pieces and also to transform the area into an archaeological park. There is another engraved sarcophagus found in the same area that has excellent craftsmanship. This one, thought to belong to a noble person, depicts a hunting scene on one side while there is a king lying on an ancient lounge-chair with probably his family members around him on the other side. 

Living history: Stratonikeia - In the Stratonikeia ancient city in Eskihisar village, Yatağan district of the southwestern province of Muğla, an archaeological excavation research and restoration work has been ongoing since 2008 headed by Associate Professor Bilal Söğüt from the Archaeology Department of Pamukkale University. Stratonikeia has a different place among ancient cities. In this city, ruins covering almost 3,500 years can be found. In ancient times, this city was a regional center where old Caria villages congregated. Along with city walls here, there is also the north gate of the city, a monumental fountain, a street with columns, a temple, a theater, a Roman bath, Byzantium basilicas, a Turkish bath, an Ottoman period village square with all its structures and landlord mansions. Inside this antique city, one can walk on stone-paved roads from the Ottoman era and observe structures that range from eons ago to today: An assembly hall from 1st century B.C. and mansions from 1875, decorated with monumental plane trees that exhibit a different beauty in every season, an antique city where a historic village square has been preserved as it is. Stratonikeia is a living archaeological city in the truest sense. It is totally unique and its difference is better understood when visited.

Associate Professor Bilal Söğüt, head of Stratonikeia Excavations, Archaeology Department, Pamukkale University