Explore The Turquoise Coast
The Letoön, shrine of the goddess Leto, was the official religious sanctuary, oracle and festival venue of the Lycian Federation, and extensive remaining ruins attest its importance. The site lies 16km south of Pınara along the old road (less on the new highway), the turning marked with a “Kumluova, Karadere, Letoön 10” sign. Driving from Patara, leave Highway 400 at the Kınık/Xanthos exit; clear Kınık and cross the Eşençay bridge; then descend into pines and take a hairpin left at a “Letoön 4” marker. There’s a dolmuş from Fethiye to Kumluova, the village beside the site; from the village centre it’s 500m to the Letoön.
In legend, the nymph Leto was loved by Zeus and thus jealously pursued by his wife Hera. Wandering in search of a place to give birth to her divine twins Apollo and Artemis, Leto approached a fountain to slake her thirst, only to be driven away by local herdsmen. Leto was then led to drink at the Xanthos River by wolves, and so changed the name of the country to Lycia, lykos being Greek for wolf. After giving birth, she returned to the spring – on the site of the existing Letoön, and forever after sacred to the goddess – to punish the insolent herdsmen by transforming them into frogs.
The name Leto may derive from the Lycian lada (woman), and the Anatolian mother-goddess, Cybele, was conceivably worshipped here previously. Another similarity between the two goddesses is a link with incestuous mother-son unions, thought to have been common in Lycian society. Most famous of all the prophecies supposedly delivered at the Letoön was that Alexander the Great would destroy the Persian Empire. Following the demise of the Lycian Federation, the sanctuary became Christianized, and wasn’t abandoned until the Arab raids of the seventh century. The Letoön was initially rediscovered by Fellows in 1840, although French-conducted digs didn’t begin until 1962, since when it has been systematically uncovered and labelled. The latest phase of excavations has partially reconstructed the main temple here, but lack of official cooperation means that little work has taken place since 2006.
Since excavations of the site began, the remains of three temples and a nymphaeum have been uncovered, as well as various inscriptions. One stipulates conditions of entry to the sanctuary, including a strict dress-code prohibiting rich jewellery, ostentatious clothing or elaborate hairstyles.
The low ruins of three temples occupy the centre of the site, beyond the relatively uninteresting (and waterlogged) agora. The westernmost temple, straight ahead coming from the site gate, bears a dedication to Leto. Once surrounded by a single Doric colonnade with decorative half-columns around the interior walls, it’s of third-century BC vintage. Three columns on the north side of the structure plus the cella walls have been reconstructed; though the masonry seems jarringly garish it was, in fact, sourced from the original marble quarry near modern Finike. The central temple, partly carved out of the rock, is a fourth-century BC structure, identified by a dedication to Artemis. The easternmost temple was similar to the Leto temple; the reproduction mosaic on the floor – the original is now in the Fethiye museum – depicts a lyre, bow and quiver with a stylized flower in the centre. This suggests a joint dedication to Artemis and Apollo, the region’s most revered deities, since the bow and quiver symbolized Artemis, and the lyre Apollo. The architecture and mosaic technique date the temple to the second and first centuries BC.
Southwest beyond the temples extends a rectangular nymphaeum flanked by two semicircular recesses with statue niches. This is abutted by another semicircular paved basin 27m in diameter, now permanently flooded by the high local water-table and full of ducks, terrapins and Leto’s croaking victims. A church was built over the nymphaeum in the fourth century, but destroyed by Arab invaders in the seventh, so that only its foundations and apse are now discernible. The notable stork mosaic on its floor is, alas, headless, though currently exposed to view.
Returning towards the car park, you’ll reach a large, well-preserved Hellenistic theatre, entered through a vaulted passage. Sixteen plaques, adorned by comic and tragic relief masks, decorate the perilously collapsing northeast entrance to this passage; nearby sits an interesting Roman tomb with a carved representation of its toga-clad occupant.