You may wish to see an introduction to this section first.
At the next village, Doover, we again forded the river,
and gradually rising from the valley for about five
miles, arrived at two or three mills, turned by the
copious streams which descend from the mountains behind the ancient city, the ruins of which had attracted
me to this place. It is called in the maps Pinara, but
from the inscriptions I discovered it to be Tlos.
Charles Fellows - Journal Written during an Excursion in Asia Minor in 1838
In general the ancient towns of Lycia were built on the coast or in its proximity. Tlos was a major exception to this rule because it was located inland, on a hill controlling the upper valley of the Xanthus River (today it is known as the Esen River). The valley was crossed by a road which linked the port of Letoon and the important town of Xanthos to a pass in the high mountains which surround the Anatolian tableland.
Views: (left) towards the Akdag (White Mountain); (right) towards the Esen River valley
Leaving our baggage we rode up the mountain for
two or three miles. A few tombs bespoke the approach to the ancient city; but its splendid and appropriate situation would alone point it out as the site of a Greek city. There are
several inscriptions in the Greek language, which may assist in deciding the date of the place. Fellows
Due to its strategic position Tlos continued to be inhabited until the early XIXth century: today it is only a small village known as Yaka and parts of the archaeological area are farmed.
View from the acropolis of the monuments built after 141 AD: 1) theatre; 2) agorÓ (market/forum); 3) stadium; 4) market hall; 5) gymnasium; 6) baths
The remains now standing are
very extensive, consisting of extremely massive buildings, suited only for palaces; the design appears to be
Roman, but not the mode of building nor the inscriptions: the original city must have been demolished
in very early times, and the finely-wrought fragments are now seen built into the strong walls, which
have fortified the town raised upon its ruins. Fellows
Tlos was founded on the very top of the hill and it was fortified with walls. In 141 AD an earthquake struck the region causing immense damage in many Lycian towns. We know from inscriptions that Opramoas, a very wealthy man, made significant donations to these towns to help them in the reconstruction; at that time the strength of the Roman Empire was at its peak and Lycia was far from its borders, so the new town was built on a flat area outside the walls, as no enemies threatened it.
The various phases of the history of Tlos are summarized in the image above. At the top there is the bare rock which attracted the first settlers because it was easy to defend. To the right a series of rock-cut tombs and free-standing sarcophagi are the most impressive cultural feature of Ancient Lycia. Around the rock there are walls built by the Byzantines which were later on modified by the Ottomans. The lower part of the image shows a section of a very long ancient wall with a gate and in the foreground the Roman stadium which had seats for 3,500.
Rock-cut tombs of the acropolis and a free-standing "Gothic" sarcophagus
striking feature in the place is the perfect honeycomb
formed in the sides of the acropolis by excavated
tombs, which are cut out of the rock with architectural
ornaments, in the form of temples, etc., some showing
considerable taste. Fellows
With the spread of Hellenism in Lycia rock-cut tombs were shaped in the form of small classical temples (see examples at Telmessos). In Tlos the majority of the tombs retained the traditional Lycian design which can be seen at Myra.
There were many
other portions of the neighbouring rocks as much excavated as these. Fellows
The whole northern side of the hill is covered with rock-cut tombs, one of which is decorated with a relief portraying the mythical hero Bellerophon. He was asked by the Lycian king Iobates to do him the service of destroying Chimera, a fire-breathing monster. Before setting about his task, Bellerophon caught and tamed the winged horse Pegasus. He then overcame Chimera by flying above it on Pegasus' back, riddling it with arrows, and then thrusting between its jaws a lump of lead which he had fixed to the point of his spear. Chimera's fiery breath melted the lead, which trickled down its throat, searing its vital organs (see a floor mosaic in Spain).
Roman theatre: (left) back wall of the stage floor; (right) "cavea"
theatre of the ancient city was large, and the most
highly and expensively finished that I have seen; the
seats not only are of marble, as has been the case
in most that I have seen, but the marble is highly wrought, and has been polished, and each seat has an
overhanging cornice, often supported by lions' paws.
A large theatre was built with the donations of many citizens: its construction took advantage of a slope only to a very limited extent: most of its 34 rows of seats were supported by a complex structure of underground vaults. Part of the stage building still stands.
The cornices of wreaths, masks, and other designs
are records of a luxurious city. Fellows
The theatre had a rich decoration mainly based on festoons showing fruits and crops farmed in the valley. The image used as background for this page is also based on a relief of the theatre.
(left) Yaka villagers grow vegetables in parts of the archaeological site; (right) "Yedi Kapi" (seven gates) one of the halls of the baths
There are also ruins
of several other extensive buildings with columns, but
their positions are not so good, and they may probably be of the date of the later town. Fellows
Tlos during the Roman period had two public baths: the larger ones had a hall with seven windows overlooking the valley.