Every era had its own rules for burial, and in many states the social status of the person was also taken into account in conducting the rite. The most striking in this respect are the rocky Lycian tombs. It is a whole city of the dead, raised to a considerable height. Excursion to the Lycian tombs in Turkey is considered one of the most popular.
History of the Lycian city of Mir
Archaeologists have determined that the rock burials date back to the 4th century BC. They are located near the town of Demre, but in its place was once a large and rich settlement, the ancient city of Mir. Soon after its founding, it became the capital of ancient Lycia, which was called the land of the sun. It was considered a powerful state with its own culture, language, writing, and architecture. It was the famous necropolis that became the main source of information about the country.
It was often the object of raids, for some time retained its autonomy. The world was founded in the 5th century B.C. In the heyday of Byzantium the city was a famous cultural and commercial center.
The name is thought to come from the word “myrrh,” the resin from which incense is made. According to another version, it is a derivative of “dedicated to the mother goddess. In any case, there is a religious element.
The city flourished for several centuries. Its prosperity was practically drowned during the great flood of the 8th century. The Miros River, which ran through the city blocks, flooded them with water mixed with mud and silt. The inhabitants had to move to a new place, where there are now quarters of modern Demre, which has become a major center of tourism.
The city is still an object of pilgrimage, as it has served as a church since A.D. 300. and to the end of his days St. John the Baptist. Nicholas, known as the Elijah.
How are the Lycian tombs arranged?
According to legend, the soul turns into a winged being after death, ascending to a better world. This is why tombs were placed as high up as possible, to shorten the deceased’s path to heaven. Naturally, this was only available to the noble and wealthy. This is how the city of the dead in the rocks gradually emerged. The tomb was carved entirely from stone; other materials were forbidden. Inside it consisted of two small rooms carved one above the other. The sarcophagus was located there. It was customary to leave clothes, food and household items, as well as jewelry, weapons and religious objects around it.
From the outside, the entrance was a miniature temple with columns, a portico, and an imitation roof. From afar, the necropolis resembles beehives or swallows’ nests.
According to research, the Lycian tombs are the oldest and rarest form of funerary monuments. Reliefs served as decoration and a sarcophagus as a place of burial. Between the base and the lid was a burial chamber. Most of the surviving tombs of the Roman Empire, they are much simpler and poorer in design than the ancient examples.
Some of the exterior elements of the tombs served as prototypes for new architectural styles.
For example, the columns are recognized as a model for the Ionic order, and the Lycian Geraion is a mixture of Greek and Oriental traditional parts.
There are rock necropolises in several areas of Turkey and each has its own characteristics. It is possible to find separately built sepulchres in Myra, which fully comply with all the canons. But the main interest is the rock complex. The architectural appearance clearly shows analogies with the layout of houses or temples. There was only one entrance to each cell, and it was covered with a huge stone. The facade depicts scenes of the lives of those buried in the sarcophagi.
The façade can also be used to distinguish between single and family burials. In the first case there are 2 columns near the entrance, in the second case there are 4 columns. Terracotta vessels and statuettes were placed next to the sarcophagi. They can be used to determine what the person did in life.
In all, about 1,000 such rocky burials have been found in the former state of Lycia. One of the most famous is the Lycian tomb of Amintas. It is made in the form of a platform on which is placed a portico and two columns, to them lead steps, which are quite well preserved. At the entrance there is an inscription about who is buried here.
In the heyday of Mir, the cult of worshipping the dead was quite strong. Relatives tried to protect the graves from desecration, for which near the entrance was embedded a special plaque with a curse, which was to stop those who came with bad intentions. All members of the family participated in the creation of the amulet. The embezzler was also fined a hefty fine if caught. Often his sum is prescribed by the owner of the tomb while he is still alive. Most of the tombs are now uncovered and the stone doors are destroyed.
What to see near the Lycian tombs?
The most significant historical monument almost next to the rock burials are the ruins of the ancient amphitheater. It is in the Greek style, including the theme of the surviving bas-reliefs. Its capacity is approximately 15 thousand spectators. The amphitheater was intended for theatrical productions and general meetings. Like the city, it was partially buried under mudflows and hidden from public view for a long time.
Tours of the Lycian tombs in Myra will often include a tour of the Church of St. John the Baptist. Nicholas. Outwardly it resembles an Orthodox basilica, inside several rooms and a white sarcophagus, which, presumably, held the relics of the saint. There is a fee to visit this attraction.
How to get to the Lycian tombs?
The easiest way is as part of the “Demre – Mira – Kekova” tour. If you do not want to limit yourself in time, and the priority is to choose your own route, it is more convenient to take a cab. When planning a trip from another city, you must first drive to Demre. This can be done by bus, the way from Antalya takes about 2 hours. If you go by rented car, it is impossible to get lost.
Lycian Tombs of Myra in Turkey are marked on the map as a tourist attraction, the best route to them, and the signs will lead to your destination.