Among the most ancient and important Lycian cities, TLOS stands beside modern Asarkale village. Hittite records from the fourteenth century BC refer to it as “Dalawa in the Lukka lands”, and the local discovery of a bronze hatchet dating from the second millennium BC confirms the long heritage of the place. However, little else is known about its history.
The ruins themselves, while reasonably abundant, are often densely overgrown or even farmed, so precise identification of buildings is debatable. The setting is undeniably impressive, a high rocky promontory giving excellent views of the Xanthos valley. The acropolis bluff is dominated by an Ottoman Turkish fortress, home during the nineteenth century to the brigand and local chieftain, Kanlı (“Bloody”) Ali Ağa, who killed his own wayward daughter to uphold the family’s honour. Now used as a football pitch and pasture, it has obliterated all earlier remains on the summit. On its northeast side, the acropolis ends in almost sheer cliffs; the eastern slope bears traces of the Lycian city wall.
Entry to the main site at Tlos is via the still intact northeastern city gate, next to the guard’s portakabin. Cobbled stairs climb to the main necropolis with its freestanding sarcophagi and complex of rock-cut house-tombs, one of which was discovered intact in 2005 yielding treasure kept at the Fethiye museum. If, however, you walk along a lower, level path from the gate, outside the city walls, you reach a second group of rock tombs. Dip below and right of these along a zigzagging trail to reach the temple-style Tomb of Bellerophon, at the hill’s northern base. Its facade was hewn with columns supporting a pediment, and three carved doors. A relief on the left wall of the porch represents the mythical hero Bellerophon (from whom one of Tlos’ ancient ruling families claimed descent), riding Pegasus, while facing them over the door a lion symbolically stands guard. It’s a fifteen-minute scramble down requiring good shoes, with a ladder ascent at the end, and both figures have been worn down by vandals and the elements.
Between the east slope of the acropolis hill and the curving onward road, a large, seasonally cultivated open space is thought to be the agora. Close to the base of the hill are traces of seats, part of a stadium which lay parallel to the marketplace. The opposite side of the agora is flanked by a long, arcaded building identified as the market hall.
Well beyond this, reached by a broad path off the eastbound road, lie the baths, where the sound of running water in nearby ditches lends credence to its identification. This atmospheric vantage point is perhaps the best bit of Tlos: three complete chambers, one with an apsidal projection known as Yedi Kapı (Seven Gates), after its seven intact windows, which provide a romantic view of the Xanthos valley. Sadly, it’s closed indefinitely for excavations that aim to uncover the fine marble floor and have also revealed a large, possibly Christian, cemetery.
Just north of the modern through-road, 34 rows of seats remain intact in a magnificent second-century AD theatre. The stage building holds several finely carved blocks – including one with an eagle beside a garlanded youth – and its northern section still stands to nearly full height, vying with the backdrop of mountains.