Sunday, November 19, 2017

Myra: City of Bountiful Artemis

Photos by Jack A. Waldron
Having secured a room at the Demre Oretmenevi (Teacher's hotel), which is on the Mediterranean coast about about 4 kilometers from ancient Myra, and about ten kilometers from the ancient port harbor of Andriake; I slowly made my way inland by bike.  The Roman Baths (pictured above) are located on the east side of the long road leading from the sea to the site, about five-hundred meters before reaching the ancient theater.
Access to the Roman Bath was forbidden due to ongoing excavations.  In the photo above, the ancient citadel can be seen in the distance, with the Roman Baths and the ongoing excavations pictured in the foreground.  As can be seen in the photo above, silting has left the ground floor of the tepidarium buried deep below the supporting arches of the upper structure of this massive bath complex.
The ancient Myrus decends from the high hills into valley where Myra is located, though this was not the main water source for the city, because the stream dries up in summer.  To provide water to the city, channels were cut into the hills running along the valley which brought spring water to the polis.
Although the ancient buildings of the city have been heavily quarried over the centuries for the construction of newer structures, there remains an impressive quantity of decorated building members that are preserved; perhaps due to their cultural significance, beauty in execution, reuse, or maybe just because they were buried over the millennia.
Pictured above and below, ceiling panels from the ancient buildings of Myra speak volumes to the attempt of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Lycians to celebrate beauty, culture, wealth, civic unity, and the world of the gods.
The delicately ornamented capital pictured below was sitting within a protected area near the remains of a now destroyed building, perhaps the Heroon of an honored warrior?
The base of a Haroon is located west of the theater below the cliff-face tombs known as the Sea Necropolis (pictured below).
Pictured below, Helios shines on; the once purposed building member is now parked in a long procession ornately sculptured blocks that at one time held important place and stature within the ancient city.
Pictured below, another ceiling panel, this one featuring Medusa . . . Don't Look!  It's interesting to see these individual panels apart from the the buildings they were purposed for, as one can view the areas extending out for the sculptural square; that which would have rested atop the other blocks that supported the upper structural members, such as these pieces.
Sometimes random sculptures just appear out of nowhere, such as the one pictured below, an ancient amateur miniature carving of a lion attacking a bull . . . , perhaps inspired from the gladiatorial and animal hunt games that took place within the nearby theater.
It's been recorded that the Theater of Myra was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 141 AD, and perhaps resembles today what it must have looked like on that fateful day so long ago (pictured below).
It can be argued that comedy is a higher art form than tragedy, as it makes light of that which may not be survived as a tragedy . . . , and the sculptures of theater masks that once adorned the building members of the ancient house of Dionysus at Myra are lasting testament to the severity of existence in times of death and chaos (pictured below): 'Put on a smiling face', 'Always look on the bright side of life', 'The grass is always greener on the other side of the mountain', 'Brighter days are ahead' . . . 
The theatrical masks once decorated the facade of the stage building that faced the cavea, which is a very well preserved as a structure.  
These mythical representations must have provided a powerful, if not emotional backdrop to the scenes being played out on stage; perhaps not so unlike an ancient broadcast of Orson Wells' 'War Of TheWorlds'.
Representations on the stage building include Zeus' rape of Ganymede, and Medea, the sorceress and priestess of Hecate, who in Euripides' play Medea, murders her children, or, in more ancient mythical accounts, the belover of Jason, hacks off the arms and legs of her brother, scattering them around an island for their father to collect and bury, thus distracting him from the pursuit of Jason and herself.
The ornamentation of the Theater of Myra attests to the wealth of the polis, and though there is little record of the city prior to the 1C BC, there are references that state that from at least the 5C BC Myra was an established Lycian polis, and as recorded by Strabo, one of the most important members of the Lycian League, where it was entitled to three votes.  Furthermore, there is a line of 2C BC watch towers that stretch from nearby ancient Sura to eastern edge of the plain.
And finally, as the christian god exposes the sins committed by humans under the Byzantine rule, the once feared Medusa becomes a nearer reflection of the humans that gaze upon her (pictured below), as if to look into a mirror of the horrors of human reality . . . , no longer tragic; but, guilty!
After the sever damage inflicted by the 141 AD earthquake, funds for the restoration of the theater, which has 6 rows of seats above the diozoma and 29 rows below, are reported to have come for Opramoas of Rhodiapolis.
Later modifications were made so that gladiatorial games could be held.  Further, there are holes within the rows indicating that a velum was on accession erected in order to protect the spectators for the searing sun.
Judging by the intricately sculpted theater members pictured above and below, the wreaths, garlands and nymphs were firsthand witnesses to what must have been among the most beautiful theaters in all of Lycia.
The protective goddess of the Greek citizens of Myra was Artemis Eleutheria; Eleutheria being the personification of liberty, or, freedom.  Other gods and goddesses worshipped in Myra were Zeus, Athena and Tyche.
Pictured above, more theater stage building decorations, here a corner section of a cornice or geison with a depiction of Medusa sits atop a frieze of theatrical mask representations.
Pictured above and below, an ornately carved door frame greets visitors upon entering the grand theater stage building.
A labyrinth of vaulted entrances and passages with beautifully architected staircases take spectators to the vomitorium of the theater (pictured below).
The two vaulted galleries within the structure on both the east and west sides of the theater lead to the upper levels of the theater.
While the sun beats down on the spectators seated in the cavea, refuge can be found within the cool corridors of the vaulted passages within the theater building.
As you explore the various passages throughout the theater building, ancient graffiti can be found, some recording which vender had access to the space, or perhaps, a dedication to mythical protector.
The Greco-Roman theater itself measures 120 meters in diameter, which makes it the largest in Lycia.
From the east passage entrance of the theater diazoma (pictured above), the Lycian rock-face-tombs can be viewed in the distance perched above the theaters eastern entrance.
There are a large variety of tombs west of the theater, ranging from elaborate Lycian House and Temple tombs to simpler types.
There are also elaborately sculpted Lycian rock-face-tombs east of the theater facing the Myrus river valley, which unfortunately I did not have time to visit.  Yet, another entry on my long list of missed, forgotten and unknown at the time places for future exploration.

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

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