LAY OF THE LAND

The Ancient City of Myra – Turkey

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  The ruins of the ancient city of Myra are located in Demre, a town 60 miles south west of Antalya in southern Turkey.

  Around 2000 years ago Myra was one of the main cities in the state of Lycia in the Anatolia region of Turkey. The city later came under Greek and then Roman control, and ongoing excavations are revealing a glimpse of Myra as a culturally rich city.

  The city was already well established before 500 BC, when a Necropolis was built on the hillside above Myra. Elaborate tombs were carved into the rock, some in the form of temple facades, while others resemble the wooden fronts of Lycian houses. Carved figures of humans and animals are also present around the tombs entrances.

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The Rock cut tombs of the necropolis

  Below the tombs are the remains of a later Graeco Roman amphitheatre – capable of holding over 10000 people, and showing how large the city became. Earthquakes, floods and Arab raids led to the city’s decline, with much of it eventually becoming buried beneath metres of river silts. It is thought that extensive remains of the city still lie buried under the modern town of Demre.

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The Amphitheatre seating 10,000

  The wide stone steps and passageways built into the amphitheatre point to large numbers of people coming and going, as the full width of the steps and floor surfaces have been polished smooth and darkened by the feet of thousands of people all those years ago. Such tangible signs of human activity make it easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of crowds on the steps, and in the passageways as they made their way to their seats.

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Polished smooth by many feet

  The Myra name is said to mean “city of the great mother goddess”, and a large temple existed there dedicated to a local version of the goddess Artemis (Artemis Eleuthera), who took on aspects of Cybele – the Anatolian mother goddess. Numerous blocks of masonry around the site have carved faces upon them (mostly female), which it has been suggested represent masks worn by actors in the Amphitheatre. However amongst these carved blocks there are quite a few which seem to represent something more archaic.

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Garlands and Goddesses?

  These carvings show a woman’s head as part of a fertile garland of fruits and flowers, draped between bulls heads or held aloft by satyr like figures. Some of these are finely carved, while others are rougher and the female head more threatening.

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Garlands, Bulls and Artemis?

  I later read that these carvings represent Artemis Eleuthera as a goddess of fruits, crops and animals. Given the portrayal of these bound and draped garlands, it is possible that real garlands were made to honour Artemis, and perhaps carried aloft in processions at her festivals. As representations of the goddess Artemis, this probably also explains why some carvings have the faces smashed off, as later Christians are known to have destroyed her images and temples.

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Garlands and defaced figures

  Christian antipathy towards Artemis is a little ironic as Artemis was a virgin goddess, and at the same time the protector of women in childbirth. In some areas she was also regarded as the mother of the gods, and so she seems to have shared aspects of the virgin mother archetype also seen in the Christian Mary. This Great Mother Archetype is an ancient female deity present at the beginning of creation. She existed before all the gods, and as there were no males, she was naturally a virgin, and yet she brought forth all life.

The Anatolian Old Wife?
  Artemis was a goddess of nature, fertility, animals, vegetation and the harvest. She was capable of curing illness, but also had a darker side, and would inflict illness on those who displeased her. This begins to sound rather similar to the folklore figure of the Cailleach or ‘Old Wife’ in Britain and Ireland, and so, as a supernatural female figure, the ‘Old’ in Old Wife may actually be a reference to her having existed since the earliest times.

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The Anatolian ‘Old Wife’ Perhaps?

The Lay of the Land

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