Heraclea under Latmos

The site of ancient Heraclea, at the foot of the former Latmos mountains, the Bes Parmak of today, is located near the little town of Kapikiri. The city was ‘built on the waters edge of Lake Bafa, the former Gulf of Latmos. The mountain setting of Heraclea is exquisite with its rugged scenery. In former days, the only means of reaching the site was by small boat from the far end of the .lake. This may be done today and is a pleasant voyage, or It may be reached by way of the Soke-Milas road.


The city was always considered Carian though Its location was in the Ionian belt. It was known as Latmos during the earliest beginnings, and was invaded by the lonians shortly after their entrance into Asia Minor. During this period, the lake was not In existence, instead the sea extended all the way to the foot of the Latmos mountain. The mountain rises some 1500 meters above the ancient city, and the walls of Heraclea climb the side of the Bes Parmak in an excellent state of preservation. During the fifth century B.C., the city paid an annual tribute of one talent ta the Delian Confederacy placing it in a rather important bracket compared to other Carian centers. The tyrant of Carla, Mausolus invaded the city and captured It under the guise of friendship in the fourth century. It is thought that Mausolus himself is responsible for the erection of the city’s magnificent fortifications, possibly as a form of reparation for having tricked the city’s inhabitants Into allowing his armies to enter the city. It was Mausolus who changed the city’s name from Latmos to the Greek Heraclea in his zeal to to model Caria after Greece. The ruler invested much in Heraclea because of the site’s strategic defense position on the border of Carla.

Alexander the Great arrived in the area not long after the death of Mausolus, liberating the area and city of Heraclea from Carian rule. The city never realy amounted to much in terms of commercial prosperity, however. What wealth it did have lay in its connection with the sea. When the Meander River eventually strangled the Gulf of Latmos, forming a lake, Heraclea was virtually without a means of livelihood. During the Roman period, Heraclea grew in size and prosperity. The first and second centuries A.D. saw many fine buildings and structures erected In the city, it was a favorite resort area with its lake at the foot of famed Mount Latmos

Christianity reached Heraclea ve”ry early primarily because of the influx of hermits and religious missionaries into the secluded area. Many convents and monasteries were buiit in the city as well as on the island of Lake Bafa during the Byzantine period. After the Turkish conquest and occupation of Asia Minor, the old Carian city was deserted and has remained so into modern times.

A myth surrounding a Carian mystic, Endymion, has survived with its origins in Heraciea. Several versions of the same theme exist, but the more well-known story is thus told: Endymion spent his entire life studying the moon, finally to discover its true orbit. This accomplished, he died. More important, however,’is that, in the process, he was able to learn the name of God from the moon. He was interred in a tomb on the side of Mt. Latmos, and his coffin was opened each year. From the bones of Endymion came a sound thought to have been the mystic trying to inform his followers of God’s name.

The most prominent and obviously most well-preserved of the ancient ruins is the city wall. This is because the area has been [eft virtually untouched in other centuries and materials have not been carted off for use in other constructions. Other remains include the Temple of Athena, the Agora, various buildings dating to the Roman occupation, and later Christian structures.

The Walls; As mentioned earlier, the walis ciimb the side of the mountain to an elevation of somo 500 meters above the water. Originally the walls extended nearly seven kilometers between the rocky crags and included sixty-five towers along this distance. Later, when Heraclea was reduced in size, the walls were shortened to some four and a half kilometers. Many of the two-storey towers remain standing with their parapets and staircases in good condition,

Temple of Athena: The temple Is located in the lower town on a spot above the agora. The design and form were not elaborate, comprising a cella and pronaos, with columns in the front. The walis of the cella are still standing to their original height, and an Inscription found near the temple reveals that it was dedicated to the city’s major deity, Athene.

The Agora : The market place of the ancient city is nearby the temple. In the vicinity of the modern school building. Most of this agora remains unexcavated, but the south end has revealed a market building incorporating a number of small shops. The lower level of the agora was apparently entered from the outside.

The Sanctuary of Endymion: This area, located at the southern end of the site, was erected in the honor and memory of the mystic Endymion, mentioned earlier. The sanctuary is actually a horse-shoe shaped buiiding with a row of unfluted columns at its front. Square pillars were placed at the end of the line of five columns. The structure itself was built into the existing rocks with the racks protruding into the interior of the chamber, A wall separates the chamber from an entrance porch or opening. Two columns remain inside the building near the separating wall. This sanctuary is thought to have been a second shrine to Endymion, one perhaps more convenient to the city’s inhabitants than the mountain sanctuary mentioned in the myth.

The Cemetery: Also in the southern section of the site, beyond a castle left over from the Byzantines, is a Carian necropolis or cemetery. The graves are simply sunk down into the rocks and covered with moveable lids. Most’ of these have long since been opened by fortune seekers. No apparent order or plan can be seen from this field of sunken graves, unlike later cemeteries, though many of them are paired together The level of the water has since risen and covered some of the low-lying tombs.    ?,

Other Ruins of Heraclea : A theater in poor condition is found  to the north of the site, and above this are the remains of the Nymphaeum or Fountain House. Unfortuately, very little’ is left of this elaborately decorated structure. To the east of the agora is the Council Chamber, also in a bad State of preservation. The supporting waL’ of the structure may be seen as well as several rows of benches that were arranged around the square central ■ area. A number of Christian monasteries and structures are also found in the surrounding areas, most of which are out of reach of the visitor.

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