Turkey // The central and southern Aegean //

Heracleia ad Latmos

Look across Lake Bafa from its southern shore and you’ll spy a patch of irregular shoreline, and the modern village of Kapıkırı, whose lights twinkle at the base of Mount Latmos by night. Strewn higgledy-piggledy around the village are the ruins of Heracleia ad Latmos (Heraklia in Turkish), one of the most evocatively situated ancient cities in all Turkey.

A settlement of Carian origin had existed here long before the arrival of the Ionians, though Latmos – as it was then known – had far better geographical communication with Ionia than with the rest of Caria. Late in the Hellenistic period the city’s location was moved a kilometre or so west, and the name changed to Heracleia, but despite its numerous monuments and enormous wall it was never a place of great importance. Miletus, at the head of the gulf, monopolized most trade and already the inlet was starting to close up.

Only the retaining wall and some rows of benches survive of the second-century BC bouleuterion that lies 100m east of the first parking area. The Roman baths visible in the valley below, and a crumbled but appealing Roman theatre off in the olives beyond, can be reached via an unmarked trail starting between the first and second parking areas. The path up to the hermits’ caves on Mount Latmos begins at the rear of the second parking area; stout boots are advisable. Similar cautions apply for those who want to trace the course of the Hellenistic walls, the city’s most imposing and conspicuous relics, supposedly built by Lysimachus in the late third century BC.

The restaurant of the Agora Pansiyon looks south over the Hellenistic agora, now an open, grassy square; the downhill side of its south edge stands intact to two storeys, complete with windows. The grounds offer a fine view west over the lake and assorted castle-crowned promontories. A box-like Hellenistic Temple of Athena perches on a hill west of the agora; less conspicuous is an inscription to Athena, left of the entrance.

From the agora a wide, walled-in path descends toward the shore and Heracleia’s final quota of recognizable monuments. Most obvious is the peninsula – or, in wet years, island – studded with Byzantine walls and a church. A stone causeway half-buried in the beach here allowed entrance in (drier) medieval times. Follow the shore southwest, and across the way you should be able to spot the tentatively identified Hellenistic Sanctuary of Endymion, oriented unusually northeast to southwest. Five column stumps front the structure, which has a rounded rear wall – a ready-made apse for later Christians – with sections of rock incorporated into the masonry.

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