Arykanda Turkey

Built on a series of terraces on a rocky steep hillside overlooking stunning mountainous and valley landscape, Arykanda’s location resonates like mystical Delphi in Greece and is perhaps the most beautiful of ancient cities in the whole of Lycia, an ancient geopolitical region in Anatolia. It is in the province of Antalya on the southern (Turquoise) coast of Turkey.

The city was well known for its grand and lavish buildings, however according to ancient sources, the citizens of Arykanda were apathetic and in the habit of living extravagantly beyond their means. It is said that they fell into debt; and it is believed they repaid their extravagance through new special taxes.

Arykanda was a small obscure settlement when it was invaded by the Persians in the 5th century BC. Like other Lycian cities, Arykanda heroically resisted the invasive powers, however, they eventually succumbed to the might of the Persian Empire.

During 333 BC, Alexander the Great arrived in Lycia (on his way to defeat the Persians) and was welcomed as a liberator by the citizens of Arykanda.

With Alexander came the overwhelming force of Hellenism. Arykanda fully embraced the Greek culture and way of life, which included the Greek language, and it was transformed with all the buildings necessary for a Greek metropolis.

In antiquity, Arykanda was a representative (with voting rights) of the Lycian League and even minted its own coins.

Arykanda continued to grow and prosper after the premature death of Alexander and remained under the control of the Ptolemaic dynasties. It briefly changed hands to Antiochus III and again to Rhodes around 190 BC (ally with Rome at the time). It was formally annexed to Rome in 43 Ad.

Grand Baths panoramic view. Arykanda. Turkey.
Part view of the Grand Baths complex and stunning landscape surrounding Arykanda, Antalya province, Southern Turkey.

The city continued to prosper as a Greek city under Roman authority; however, its prosperity was stalled when it was struck by two significant earthquakes in 141 and 240 AD.

After a bitter struggle with the city’s pagans, Christianity prevailed in Arykanda and the city became a bishop’s seat in the Byzantine age. However, the city was on the decline and sometime between the ninth and eleventh centuries AD; the site was abandoned because of the Arab invasions of the region.

British researcher and explorer Sir Charles Fellows rediscovered Arykanda in 1838. The isolated archaeological site is extensive and thoroughly sign-posted.

It has a very impressive array of excavated architectural remnants from its illustrious past including: Stadium, Theatre, Odeon, Agoras, Baths, many Temples or Sanctuaries, Nymphaeums, Houses and Villas and at least 15 monumental tombs. 

Click to view the complete Arykanda image gallery.

All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas.

Ancient Nemea, Greece.

Panhellenic Sanctuary of Zeus

Nemea is on the north-eastern part of the Peloponnese in the prefecture of Corinthia, southern mainland Greece. Ancient Nemea is the old stamping ground of Heracles and a precinct and sanctuary sacred and dedicated to the God of Nemean Zeus.

Situated amongst gentle rolling hills overflowing with Greece’s premier vineyards lays Ancient Nemea, famous in Greek mythology as the place where Heracles slew the ferocious Nemean Lion.

There’s no sign of Heracles these days, but the local red wine is known as the ‘blood of Heracles’ and among the sacred cypress trees at Nemea’s sanctuary of Zeus, the timeless 4th century BC Temple of Nemean Zeus currently endures as the proud witness to the legendary feats of antiquity. 

Nemea was not actually a permanently inhabited town, but one of four famous ancient Greek Panhellenic sanctuaries (Olympia, Delphi and Isthmia were the others) where festivals (Games) took place in rotation in the late summer every two years. During the classical period, all four Games were of an equal importance and the ancient Athenians awarded free meals for life to her citizens who won a crown at any of four games. 

The Nemean Games were established in 573 BC and organised every two years after the model of the Olympic Games, with the emphasis on Athletic contests.

According to the oldest myth, the establishment of the Nemean games is attributed to the death of the prince Opheltes, the infant son of Nemean Priest King Lykourgos and Eurydike.

When Opheltes was born, the King consulted the Pythian oracle of Delphi on how to ensure the well-being of his new son. The Pythian oracle responded the baby must not touch the ground until he could walk. The nursemaid, entrusted by the king to look after his son, was walking through a meadow with the Royal baby when she was approached by the “Seven champions marching against Thebes” asking her for something to quench their thirst. 

The nursemaid placed the infant down momentarily on a bed of wild celery to fetch them water from a nearby stream. Tragically, a snake that lay concealed in the celery killed the baby prince. The “Seven Against Thebes” took this death as a bad omen (which it turned out to be) for their own mission and renamed the baby Archemoros “Beginner of Doom” and to appease the gods they held the funeral games, hence founding the Nemean Games.

In honour of the infant prince Opheltes, the Games Judges wore black robes of mourners and victors received a crown of wild celery. This was normal practice for the duration of the Nemean Games through the centuries.

Ancient Greek Stadium. Nemea. Peloponnese. Greece.
Nemea. Peloponnese. Greece. View of the excavated and restored ancient Greek stadium at Nemea which dates from 330 BC. Located 400 meters southeast of the Temple of Zeus amidst scenic landscape, the stadium is partly cut into the hill and the 13 lane 600 ancient feet long running track still has its original starting lines marked with stones.

By the end of the 5th century, the sanctuary of Zeus had been destroyed and the Games were transferred to Argos, a nearby powerful city of ancient Greece. The games returned to Nemea around 330 BC when the city was raised from ruins by a burst of building activity that included a new Temple and Stadium of which are to be seen today. 

Unfortunately, the new prosperity was short-lived when the games were once again transferred to Argos with the sad fact they were never returned to Nemea. Over the following centuries, the sanctuary was abandoned and the temple columns were knocked down and used for other building projects.

Fortunately for us, the temple has been restored in parts and so has the stadium, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many including the University of California at Berkeley operating under the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and with the permission and supervision of the Archaeological Service of the Ministry of Culture of the Hellenic Republic. The Director of those excavations was Professor Stephen G. Miller.

The Nemean games resumed in 1996 thanks to the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, a movement intended to resurrect the competitive and egalitarian spirit of ancient Greek athletics. They have been held every 4 years since and are open to anyone who wishes to take part.

I have been to Ancient Nemea several times and I have always found it a highly rewarding site to visit. It has a splendid museum and the Temple of Nemean Zeus and the Stadium are outstanding examples of their time.

Click to view the complete Ancient Nemea image gallery.

All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas.

Recommended websites:

https://nemeangames.org/

https://www.opheltes.gr/

https://nemeacenter.berkeley.edu/about-ancient-nemea/