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Was the capital city of the Lycian Federation and its greatest city for most of Lycian history. It was made famous to the Western world in the 19th century by its British discoverer Charles Fellows. It is very old - finds date back to the 8th century BC, but it is possible that the site may have existed during the Bronze Age or during the first centuries of the Iron Age.
Xanthos and Letoon are often seen as a "double-site", since the two were closely linked and Letoon was administered by Xanthos. Letoon was the sacred cult center of Lycia, located less than 10 km to the south of Xanthos. Xanthos-Letoon is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Turkey. For this reason, it has been registered in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. Currently there is a French team excavating Xanthos and Letoon.
Xanthos is not far from Patara and a trip to Letoon or Xanthos from Kalkan, Kaş or Fethiye could easily be combined with a trip to the beach and/or ruins there. It is located near the village of Kınık on a hillside in a beautiful natural site overlooking the Eşen river. From this elevation one receives a supreme view of the Xanthos Valley surrounded by the spectacular Taurus Mountains. It is easy to find by car, just off the main highway and well-marked. Xanthos' landscape is quite beautiful, especially in spring.
The history of Xanthos is quite a violent - the Xanthosians twice demonstrated the fierce independence of the Lycian people when they chose to commit mass suicide rather than submit to invading forces. The Xanthosian men set fire to their women, children, slaves and treasure upon the acropolis before making their final doomed attack upon the invading Persians. Xanthos was later repopulated but the same gruesome story repeated itself in 42 BC when Brutus attacked the city during the Roman civil wars in order to recruit troops and raise money. Brutus was shocked by the Lycians' suicide and offered his soldiers a reward for each Xanthosian saved. Only 150 citizens were rescued.
Xanthos became the seat of an archbishopric in the 8th century, but was deserted during the first wave of Arab raids in the 7th century.
Although Charles Fellows carried away most of the finds of Xanthos (now in the British Museum) many interesting monuments and structures remain, including two of the most interesting tombs in Lycia.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing Fellows took from Xanthos was The Nereid Monument, a very large and elaborate Lycian tomb dating from about 380 BC, an interesting mix of Greek and Lycian styles. Other notable objects taken were the lovely Lion Tomb and the Tomb of Payava.
The following are ruins that can be seen in Xanthos:
Acropolis No. 1
Roman - Byzantine Street and Basilica
Acropolis No. 2
Both Herodotus and Appian describe the conquest of the city by Harpagus on behalf of the Persian Empire, in approximately 540 BC. According to Herodotus, the Persians met and defeated a small Lycian army in the flatlands to the north of the city. After the encounter, the Lycians retreated into the city which was besieged by Harpagus. The Lycians destroyed their own Xanthian acropolis, killed their wives, children, and slaves, then proceeded on a suicidal attack against the superior Persian troops. Thus, the entire population of Xanthos perished but for 80 families who were absent during the fighting.
During the Persian occupation, a local leadership was installed at Xanthos, which by 520 BC was already minting its own coins. By 516 BC, Xanthos was included in the first nomos of Darius I in the tribute list.
Xanthos' fortunes were tied to Lycia's as Lycia changed sides during the Greco-Persian Wars, archeological digs demonstrate that Xanthos was destroyed in approximately 475 BC-470 BC, whether by the Athenian Kimon or by the Persians is open to debate. As we have no reference to this destruction in either Persian or Greek sources, some scholars attribute the destruction to natural or accidental causes. Xanthos was rebuilt after the destruction and in the final decades of the 5th century BC, Xanthos conquered nearby Telmessos and incorporated it into Lycia.
The prosperity of Lycia during the Persian occupation is demonstrated by the extensive architectural achievements in Xanthos, particularly the many tombs, culminating in the Nereid Monument.
Conquest by the Macedonians
Reports on the city's surrender to Alexander the Great differ: Arrian reports a peaceful surrender, but Appian claims that the city was sacked. After Alexander's death, the city changed hands among his rival heirs; Diodorus notes the capture of Xanthos by Ptolemy I Soter from Antigonos.
Conquest by the Romans
Appian, Dio Cassius, and Plutarch each report that city was once again destroyed in the Roman Civil Wars, circa 42 BC, by Brutus, but Appian notes that it was rebuilt under Mark Antony. Remains of a Roman amphitheatre remain on the site. Marinos reports that there was a school of grammarians at Xanthos in late antiquity.
Roman amphitheatre at Xanthos & Pillared Tombs
Tomb of Kybernis - King of Xanthos
King Kybernis tomb
Alexander the great
Roman road in Xanthos
The Nereid monument
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N.B. All information from this page is drawn from
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