Question: Where in the world were tombs built into the side of mountains so angels could reach the dead?
Answer: The Lycian King Tombs of Kaunos, Turkey
Among all of the archeological riches of Turkey, the rock-cut tombs in the ancient city of Kaunos often fly under the radar. This lesser-known site consists of hundreds of tombs resembling Grecian temples carved into the mountainsides of southwest Turkey. Here, the Lycians buried their elite high in the sky so afterlife angels could best reach them.
Lycia was a federation of ancient cities situated in what are now the Turkish provinces of Antalya and Muğla. They are among the most enigmatic societies from antiquity because they left little historical record behind. However, about 20 major archeological sites remain from the Lycians, including their elaborate funerary architecture.
There are several types of Lycian tombs, most notably the ornate tombs carved directly into the rock face. The Lycians believed their dead were carried into the afterlife by a mythical winged creature so they placed their honored dead in geographically high places open to the sky. There are hundreds of these rock-hewn tombs still intact.
The tombs typically had one or two levels and held more than one body (most likely of people related to each other). The exterior of some of the tombs are decorated with reliefs depicting the life of the deceased and the main events of the time. Unfortunately, following centuries of looting, the interior chambers are now bare of any artifacts.
The elaborate tombs are part of the UNESCO-recognized ancient port city of Kaunos. Set between the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas Kaunos was a desirable place to trade goods and provisions like dried fish and figs, salt, and other agricultural products before ships began their long overseas journey. The remains of the wealthy city also include a 5,000-seat Hellenistic theater, rock-cut Roman bath, and several temples and churches.
More on the Ancient City of Kaunos:
- According to mythology, Kaunos was founded by King Kaunos, son of the Carian King Miletus and Kyane and grandson of Apollo.
- It was founded as early as the eighth or ninth century by the local Carians who arrived before the Ionian and Dorian Greeks. From the fifth century onwards, Kaunos gradually took on the characteristics of a Greek city.
- Much like Sicily, Kaunos was set on the edge between different cultural spheres, and because of its strategic location, it changed hands many times throughout its history. It was governed by the Persian Empire, Sparta, Rhodes, Macedon, and even the Roman Empire.
- In antiquity, Kaunos was set on the side of a large open bay, but this setting has completely changed. Over time it has transformed into the Dalyan River Wetlands, a delta that is only accessible by shallow bottomed boats.
- This tranquil waterway was named for dalyans, the fishing weirs that have supported locals for centuries. While cruising the waterway, you may see species of birds and loggerhead sea turtles which have nested here since the age of the dinosaurs.
- The ruins of Kaunos are located on two limestone outcrops, known as the Upper and Lower Acropolis. The Upper Acropolis served as the city’s main citadel and last refuge during attacks. Today it contains an imposing medieval fortress that incorporated the ancient citadel.
- In addition to the ruins and rock-cut tombs, Kaunos is also defined by its beautiful, lush setting of orange, lemon, and pomegranate orchards.
Behold the remarkable Lycian tombs hewn into the cliffs when you join us for Turkey’s Magical Hideaways.