As I've already talked about the rich prechristian and the current islamic culture of this area I'd like to focus this last part of my little report a bit more on what christian tradition had and still has to offer for visitors of Lycia.
You may remember that the landmass of Asia Minor (which today is Turkey) belonged to the heartland of Christianity as long as it was part of the Byzantine Empire with Constantinople (= modern Istanbul) as its capital. Desintegration started in the 11th century when step by step the seljuks (muslims) got hold of the country.
The Byzantine Empire around 1000. Source wikipedia with a lot more maps and details of the history.
Modern Turkey is a secular but still islamic country which isn't inclined to provide much freedom for its few christian citizens. Still, in some part of the Lycian coast you find advertisement panels like this of a restaurant, owned by some Ipek (means "silk" and is used as female or family name) and picturing good old "Santa":
In Turkish Santa Claus is called "Noel baba", means "Christmas father". So this cafe is named "Christmas father cafe":
So why is this, lol? Well, Santa Claus hasn't been this white bearded old ho-ho-ho-guy, clothed in red and white for all the time. In fact, this figure had been coined by Coca Cola company in 1931 (though there had been some similar precursors in the 19th century). Originally Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas (15 March 270 – 6 December 343) who was born in Patara (Lycia; I've already shown some photos of ancient Patara in part 2) and later became the decent and influential bishop of nearby Myra.
Map of ancient Lycia with Patara and Myra on its south coast.
Although Christian Asia Minor produced a lot of important saints (here is a list), Saint Nicholas became the most popular of them. Legends are told about him, presenting him as the (secret) helper for children, poor young girls and sailors. But he's not only the patron of the children and sailors, but as well the national patron of Greece and Russia (you may read the details of his life and meaning on wikipedia).
No wonder, that a lot of people are interested to visit his residential town: Myra (which as a modern town is now called Demre).
The burial church of Saint Nicholas in the center of modern Demre had been excavated from the mud in recent decades and is now accessible as a museum: "Noel baba mueze".
Modern statue of Nicholas in the entrance of the former church. Notice its shiny left foot, polished by the touch of many thousand pilgrims who visit Myra every year; most of them come from Russia, and we've met quite a lot Russians on our trip in Lycia indeed.
Ancient floor, ornated with so called opus sectile: art technique popularized in the ancient and medieval Roman world where materials were cut and inlaid into walls and floors to make a picture or pattern.
Main entrance to the church with its narthex, still with frescoes showing the assembly of an ancient synod.
Altar. As the church is a secular museum today and as Turkey is - to say the least - reluctant to concede many religious rights for Christians, there had been very rarely given permission to celebrate a christian service (mass) in this church.
An ancient sarcophagus which probably once contained the bones of Saint Nicholas. They aren't there anymore though. In 1087 parts of them were robbed (or some would say: saved) by sailors and translated to Bari in southern Italy (I've once visited the crypt with these remains), the rest came to Venice in 1100.
The beautiful old frescoes in this church had been restored and presented to the public in 2007.
All around the church/museum there are large shops which usually would meet the expectations of those tousands of (russian) pilgrims. Fortunately, when we've visited the place, it was still pre-season and very late in the afternoon. So we could enjoy the place nearly alone and in peace.
Well, as I have come to an end with this long report, lol, I'll skip another trip by boat to a hotspot of tourism in Lycia (the so called sunken city of Simena and Kekova), as it happened on a rainy day which wouldn't allow to take as beautiful photos as this location deserves.
A very bright day though was reserved for our trip to the nearby island which seems to have emerged out of a fairy tale - at least by the first look. Altough this island is very near to the coast of Turkey (closest distance: 1 mile), it belongs to Greece as the eastmost greek island (apart from the greek part of Cyprus which is an autonomous Republic though). The island got several names: Turks call it "Meis", derived from ancient greek "Megiste", means: the largest island (of several smaller ones nearby). The name "Megiste" is still in use in Greece, but the place is also known as Kastellorizo/Kastelorizo, derived from Italian and refering to the red rocks on which the castle of the island was built by the crusaders. I'll stick to "Kastellorizo" further on.
Meis/Kastellorizo seen from the garden of our nice turkish hotel in Kas (more about Kas in the last blog, part 3).
The visit of this island had been one of the highlights for me, because it hasn't been for the first time. Actually, back in 1985 - nearly 30 years ago, uff - I've already spent a whole week in Kastellorizo. And it happened just by chance. Back then with a friend I made a trip to the large greek island of Rhodes in the southeastern Agean Sea. Rhodes usually is a nice island with an amazing medieval town. But nevertheless, it was a bad decision to go there as backpackers in the month of July. It was unbelievable hot; the island was overcrowded with noisy tourists, the locals and especially the waiters were unnerved, and the prices - f.e. for fish - were high. Adjacent islands were closed for tourism due to the lack of fresh water. So, how could we escape Rhodes, lol?
Then we found out that there was a ferry boat to the never-heard-of-island Kastellorizo, 78 miles (125km) east of Rhodes. Thing was, this ferry would run only once a week, so once you've left the boat there wouldn't be any way back for quite a while. Nevertheless, we dared to risk the trip, and we found a small, rocky island with only one little harbour town which was mostly in ruins to boot. Only some houses around the harbour were inhabitable and inhabited by a couple of locals and very few tourists. --- It was heaven! No road, no cars, no planes, no marine traffic either, except some fisher boats and yachts. No connection to the nearby Turkish coast as well, due to the enemity between Turkey and Greece, but back then it wouldn't have make much sense to visit Kas on the coast of Turkey anyway, as it wasn't developed at all at that time (the coastal road, requirement for development, was hardly built 30 years ago).
So we spent some very relaxed days on Kastellorizo back in July 1985: swimming in the very clear waters of some lonesome bays, exploring the little island, its hidden ruins and abandoned historical sites by using small paths, and every evening locals, tourists and sailors would gather in this calm, beautiful little harbour, drinking wine and enjoying very fresh fish which was also cheap.
Now of course I was thrilled to see that for already some years there is a daily ferry boat, connecting Kas and Kastellorizo. It's a bit pricy and you have to endure a lot of pass port controls, as you're going not only to cross a national border, but the border to the European Union with its Euro-money as well. And authorities make sure that after the stay of five hours on the island everybody is back on the boat.
Approaching Kastellorizo today by ferry boat.
Before I show you what the island is looking now we have to delve a bit into the recent history of the island (I skip the ancient one) to understand the specialty of this island:
This is a view of the harbour of Kastellorizo in 1921. Until a century ago, the island was quite wealthy as merchant vessels used to make a stop there. Between 10.000 or 20.000 (I've read different numbers) of people, most of them greek but some turkish as well, used to live there. But then everything went downhill for this poor island. First, long range ships didn't need to stop there any longer; a catastrophic earthquake destroyed a lot of houses in 1927. But the worst was that the island became a playing field for several political and military purposes. In the first part of the 20th century it was first dominated by the French, then by the Italians, later by the Brits. In 1923 all Turks had to leave the island (see last blog, part 3). The town was raided by troops and finally bombed by the Germans. The local population was evacuated for many years, and as there was no reason to come back to this demolished place most of them finally emigrated. Especially in Australia some ten thousands of descendants are living up to now (further details in the quite extensive English article on Wikipedia). And here a link to the "Australian friends of Kastellorizo": Link
Greek inhabitants of Kastellorizo in former times, wearing their traditional costume (I took this photo in the little museum of this island).
So when you look at the beauty of this island you'll have a tear in your eye because of this gruesome backside of its fairy tale. --- In the last years the greek government put a lot of efforts to keep the island inhabitated (around 200, maybe even 400 permanent residents now, a lot of elderly people though). An airstrip has been built and a road to this airport (in season once a day there would be flight with a small aircraft); a lot of renovation and reconstruction had been done, though still some ruined houses are left.
View from the ferry boat in the harbour of Kastellorizo.
Details of the houses, built and renovated in the typical style of the island (which is influenced by Italian architecture as it is the case in many places in Greece).
One of the larger churches of the island.
The old mosque (built in the 18th century) at the entrance of the harbour is now a museum for local history. Above the castle of the crusaders.
In the adjacent bay of Mandraki.
Alley in Kastellorizo, decorated with flowers.
The monument for shepherd Despina, who died in 1982. She voluntarily lived only in company of her animals in the nearby tiny island of Rho, flying and protecting the flag of Greece to maintain the claim of this island for her nation. Finally Turkey gave up on this rock in the sea, lol. Despina obviously is venerated like a saint beause of her resilience. --- BTW the "war of flags" is still ongoing: everywhere along the Turkish coast boats and many houses will fly the red flag of Turkey; in Kastellorizo it's the same with the blue and white flag of Greece, lol. Okay, if the war is restricted to flags, no problem, lol.
Behind the town a steep and stony stairway leads up to the rigde of the island. It provides a great view! Notice the coast of Turkey with the town of Kas in the background.
On the ridge of the island you're quite lonesome. By chance we've spotted the hull of an old bomb from WW II (probably a German one, huh) in the shrubs.
Back in 1985 the hidden monastery of Saint George which can be reached only by foot was abandoned and closed. Now renovation work is going on, and they told us that monks will move in next year. They'll also provide rooms for guests who are really, really looking for a lot of quietness, solitude and religious enlightenment.
Inside the church of the monastery.
Back in the harbour the staff of some nice restaurants are eagerly waiting for guests. Who wouldn't like to follow their invitation in a place like this?
Fresh fish is offered - but surely not this poor creature. Locals who were quite excited because of this catch, told us it's a sort of Ostraciidae which is very toxic.
So other sorts of tasty fish were served, but it wasn't as cheap any longer as it has been 30 years ago ;-).
Fine outlook during our lunch in the harbour of Kastellorizo. Ahh, the Mediterranean Sea ...
Thank you, everybody, for having a look. Our trip to Lycia finally is finished. Hope you've enjoyed the pics and won't be bothered too much by my poor grammar. Will do some improvements the days to come, but have to leave for now.
Evening vista along the Turkish coastline above Kas.