Monday, 5 September 2011

The lost stories of a classical city in the Mediterranean

The squares in Kaş are shaded by pine trees and plane trees and filled with cafés and boutiques (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Andifli is one of the prettiest Greek towns on the shores of the Mediterranean. The town curves in a horseshoe shape around a harbour that faces south, so that for most of the day it is bathed in warm, bright sunshine.

The town’s squares, shaded by pine trees and plane trees and filled with cafés and boutiques, lead invitingly into cobbled, gently-sloping, side-streets and alleyways lined by white-washed houses, with doors painted in bright primary colours, overhanging wooden balconies, and gardens rich with bougainvillea, hibiscus, vines and lemon trees.

The cobbled, sloping, side-streets are lined by white-washed houses with overhanging wooden balconies (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The streets rise up to a scattering of archaeological remains: ancient sarcophagi from the oft-forgotten Lycian civilisation; majestic, carved tombs; a cistern used for centuries to store wine and olive oil; a Hellenistic temple whose dedication has been forgotten in the mists of myth and time; an amphitheatre that once held 4,000 spectators; and the Church of the Annunciation, with a Greek inscription recalling its dedication and a courtyard decorated in the hoklakia mosaic patterns in black and white pebbles unique to the Dodecanese islands.

The blue door at No 11 has an intriguing suggestion for the postman (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

From every point above the town there are views across to Kastellórizo, one of the smallest and most remote Greek islands in the Dodecanese, and its offshore islets, Ro and Strongýli. In the harbour, small fishing boats vie for mooring with yachts, small ferries and tour boats.

Hidden sorrows

Charm and location aside, there is one major difference between Andifli and any other similar Greek resort of its size – no Greeks have lived here for almost a century. In 1923, the people of Andifli were forced to leave, and the town that was known in antiquity as Antíphellos is now known to its residents as Kaş (pronounced “cash”).

Although Kaş is well-developed, many of its original features remain. There are no large hotel chains, no tacky shopping areas, and no pushy waiters enticing custom with feigned humour. Instead, Kaş has a discreet Mediterranean elegance, smart boutiques, craft shops, laid-back cafés, and fine restaurants.

The story of the town dates back to the civilisation of the Lycians, who named this place Habesos or Habesa. Habesos was an important port town and a junction on the roads to Xanthos and Kanous. It was one of the earliest Lycian cities and a voting member of the Lycian League, and there is evidence of its importance in a necropolis that may have been one of the richest in Lycia.

One tomb in the necropolis, the “Doric Tomb” (Kesme Mezar), is almost intact. This house-style tomb from the 4th century BC, carved from the natural rock on which it stands, is 3.5 metres high. The 2 metre high entrance once had a sliding door, and inside there are benches on three inner sides. At the back, the bench where the body rested is decorated with a small frieze showing 25 small female dancing figures holding hands. Another nearby tomb has two inscriptions, one in Lycian, the other in Latin, indicating it was reused for a woman named Claudia Recepta.

The ‘King’s Tomb’ has become a symbol of the town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The side-streets are rich with Lycian sarcophagi. One of the most important, known as the King’s Tomb (Kral Mezar), is an inscribed tomb mounted on a high base and dating from the 4th century BC. This towering, elegant structure at the top of the street named Uzun Çarşi Caddesi has become the symbol of the town.

The lower chamber is 1.5 meters high, with a sunken floor and a door that has long been broken open. Above is a plain base 80 cm high. The two parts are cut from solid rock. On top is the second burial chamber, cut from a separate piece of stone, with a Gothic-style lid and roof. Two lions’ heads project from each side of the lid, with each head resting on a pair of paws. The short ends of the lid are divided into four panels, with standing figures in relief in the upper two.

A long Lycian inscription on the lower chamber is in a poetic form of the language otherwise found only on the obelisk at Xanthos. But the inscription has never been deciphered, and nobody knows to whom the tomb belonged.

A damaged sarcophagus, relocated and abandoned incongruously on a wall by the harbour, without any sign or marking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In 1842, Admiral Thomas Spratt counted over 100 other sarcophagi here. Most have since been destroyed by local people who used the flat sides as building-stones, abandoning the curved lids they considered useless. Throughout the streets, there are damaged sarcophagi, abandoned or relocated in incongruous places, often without signs or markings.

Myriad Lycian rock tombs in the hills above were carved out of the cliff-faces in the 4th century BC (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In the hills above, myriad Lycian rock tombs were carved out of the cliff-faces in the 4th century BC. Some are almost inaccessible or invisible beneath dense growth, but they are similar to the temple-style Lycian tombs throughout this part of Anatolia.

Greek conquests and civilisation

Alexander the Great annexed the area during his campaigns, and after his death the area changed hands between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. The Greeks named the town Antíphellos (Ἀντίφελλος), as it was the harbour for the city of Phéllos (Φέλλος, “cork oak”). As seagoing commerce increased, Antíphellos prospered while Phéllos withered. The classical Greek sites include an amphitheatre, a temple and a cistern.

The Hellenistic amphitheatre dates from the 1st century BC and seats 4,000 people (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Hellenistic amphitheatre, dating from the 1st century BC, is a mere 500 metres west of the main square, on a hill overlooking the sea. Unlike many similar theatres, it was not cut into the hillside. The only theatre in Anatolia overlooking the sea, it is still an ideal place to watch the setting sun. There are 26 rows, with seating for up to 4,000 people. It never had a stage; the open sanded space facing the seats, with a modern curved wall as a backdrop, is now used for concerts.

The classical temple dates from the Hellenistic and Roman eras (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Between the theatre and the town centre, the classical temple dates from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Nearby, a 5th century BC cistern is carved into the rock with a ceiling of stone blocks. For centuries, it was used to store wine, water, olive oil and vegetables.

Small fishing boats vie for mooring in the harbour with yachts, small ferries and tour boats (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Strabo mentions both Phéllos and Antíphellos, and Pliny refers to Antíphellos and its soft sponges. Throughout Roman times, Antíphellos exported sponges and timber. Under the Byzantine Empire, it was a suffragan see of Myra, the diocese of Saint Nicholas of Myra – later transformed into Santa Claus. In time, Antíphellos fell to Arabs, Seljuks and Ottoman Turks, but it continued to be known to its Greek-speaking population as Andifli.

In the 19th century, Andifli and the neighbouring Lycian territory were explored by the Irish-born Sir Charles Beaufort (1774-1857), who gave his name to the Beaufort Scale. Beaufort’s father was Rector of Navan, Co Meath, and Collon, Co Louth, and the explorer was a brother-in-law of the writer Maria Edgeworth. He identified the ancient site of Antíphellos, and in his Karamania recorded the name Vathy for the bay at the head of which Antíphellos stands.

Beaufort was followed by Sir Charles Fellows (1799-1860), who published drawings of sarcophagi, pediments, and doors of tombs in Andifli in his Discoveries in Lycia, and pillaged many of the Lycian remains in Xanthos, now in the British Museum.

Lost stories

A restaurant for sale in the side streets (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

From 1850 to 1923, Greek-speaking Andifli prospered as a timber-exporting port. However, at the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey, the population of Andifli was forcibly expelled. It is a story repeated with equal tragedy throughout Turkey and Greece in the 1920s. That story is told in places such as Smyrna which became Izmir, Telmessos (Makri) which became Fethiye, and Karmylassos (Levessi) which became Kaya Köyü, the village in Birds Without Wings, the novel by Louis de Bernières.

The houses in the side streets could be in any Greek village or town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

But no-one tells the stories of the lost Greeks of Andifli. Many eventually migrated to Australia and the town was repopulated by Turkish-speaking Muslims expelled from Macedonia. The new settlers knew nothing of the history of the town they came to know as Kaş, meaning “eyebrow” in Turkish, a reference to the curved shape of the harbour. The once-prosperous port became a sleepy fishing village; nearby Vathy, perhaps the original Phéllos, was renamed Bucak Limani.

The Church of the Annunciation lay desolate for 40 years when it was converted into the Yeni Cami or New Mosque in 1963 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The town had churches but no mosque, and a mosque was built by the harbour in 1932. In 1963, 40 years after the Greek-speaking people of Andifli were expelled, their principal church, the Church of the Annunciation, was requisitioned as a mosque, and – despite its age – was renamed Yeni Cami (New Mosque). A minaret was added, along with a fountain with a quotation in Turkish, rather than Arabic, from the Quran: “We made from water every living thing.” (Surat al-Anbiyya, the Prophets, 21: 30).

The church was realigned inside with the addition of a minbar and a mihrab facing Mecca (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Inside, as the church was aligned facing east, a new mihrab or prayer niche facing Mecca and a minbar (pulpit) were inserted on the south wall. The frescoes were stripped away and the icon screen removed. By then, all obvious Christian symbolism had been picked out of the hoklakia pebble mosaic in the courtyard. But no-one noticed the significance of the fish, symbolising the Greek word Ichthus (ΙΧΘΥΣ), an acrostic for Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.” And so, dozens of fish remain scattered though the pebble mosaic.

The Ichthus symbol remains discreetly unnoticed in the pebble mosaic of the church courtyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Tourism, excursions and friendship

The much-photographed beach at Kaputaş between Kalkan and Kaş has been used for many movie locations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

A tourism boom in Kaş in the early 1990s brought British and German visitors and a growth in the number of apartments and luxury hotels. Many were built without license, threatening the landscape and environment of the Çukurbağ Peninsula to the west.

In 2006, Kaş was added to the protected Kekova marine area to preserve its rich biodiversity. It remains a quiet and pleasant town. The mountains offer trekking, climbing and river-rafting; this is a centre for diving; nearby beaches include the much-photographed beach and gorge at Kaputaş.

A popular excursion is to nearby Kekova Island, where the bays have sunken shipwrecks and underwater cities. The sea is so clear the city buildings, with their churches, columns and staircases, can be seen from boats.

Every point above the town offers views across to Kastellórizo, one of the smallest and most remote Greek islands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

But the best-selling day tour from Kaş is across the narrow strait to Kastellórizo, the most remote and isolated Greek island and known to the people of Kaş as Meis. The warm friendships between the people of both places predate the recent thaw in relationships between Greece and Turkey.

In the offices of Meis Express and Latebreaks, I found myself in a three-way conversation in English, Greek and Turkish between local travel agents and Greek captains, arranging a crossing to the island. It was a trilingual conversation so natural that I may have been the only one there aware of the changes in language.

Past offences and injustices are truly forgotten, and the Greeks of Kastellórizo bring their music and dance to Kaş every June for the Kaş Lykian Festival. But then, there has never been much difference between the music, dance and food of these two countries.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay was first published in September 2011 in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory)