Tracing the footsteps of the ancient Carians

The legacy of these ancient people can be explored through the archaeological remains found throughout the Aegean region

by Edel Cassidy
Words Edel Cassidy

The Carians were one of the indigenous peoples of the Aegean region and are believed to have originated in the Bronze Age (3300–1200 BC). Their civilisation flourished during the first millennium BC when they established a series of city-states and settlements along the south-western coast of Anatolia, the main centres being Halicarnassus (modern-day Bodrum) and Mylasa (modern-day Milas). Their territory also included Greek cities along the Aegean shore.

They were skilled seafarers, traders and crafts-men, and were known for their contributions to the arts, architecture and sculpture. Throughout their history, the Carians came under the influence of various civilisations such as the Persians and the Greeks. Over time, they became part of larger empires, including the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire and, later, the Roman Empire, eventually losing their distinct cultural identity.

Today, the legacy of the Carian people can be explored through the archaeological remains of their old cities and the artefacts found in museums throughout the region, providing valuable insights into the history and culture of this intriguing civilisation.

Bodrum

Once known as Halicarnassus, Bodrum was the main port of the Kingdom of Caria. Bodrum Castle, once a medieval fortress, is built on top of an ancient Carian settlement believed to be the site of the Palace of Mausolus, King of Caria. 

The castle also houses the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, where shipwrecks and submerged relics reveal the maritime heritage of the Carian civilisation, providing a fascinating glimpse into their seafaring culture and trade.

There is an area dedicated to the ‘Carian Princess’, exhibiting the skeleton and golden jewels found in what is thought to be the tomb of Queen Ada. As there is not enough evidence to confirm identification, it is simply referred to as the Tomb of the Carian Princess.

Aerial view of the ruins of an ancient temple
The Temple of Zeus at Euromos.

Hekatomnos and Euromos

The metropolis of Hekatomnos was once a thriving city ruled by the Carian dynasty; only a short distance away is Euromos, another significant Carian city. Though little remains of Euromos today, the magnificent Temple of Zeus stands proudly as a well-preserved testament to the past. The temple was built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian.

Ancient stone carving in geometric shapes
Ancient stone carving at Stratonikeia.

Stratonikeia and Lagina

Stratonikeia is a city steeped in legend and rich in historical significance. There are many ancient structures to admire here, including an impressive 2nd-century BC gymnasium, a 1st-century BC bouleuterion or council chamber, colonnaded streets and Roman baths. 

Lagina, a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Hecate, is connected to Stratonikeia by a sacra via or sacred road.

Ruins of an ancient amphitheatre
The bouleuterion of Iasos.

Iasos

With a rich and vibrant past dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, Iasos flourished under different empires and became a significant hub for trade, fishing and marble production. It developed into a prosperous city adorned with impressive buildings and temples. The must-see sites are the agora, which is surrounded by columns, and the bouleuterion, an impressive semicircular auditorium. There is also a well-preserved theatre and acropolis, built on the highest point in the city and offering stunning views of the surrounding area.

Ruins of an ancient temple
Temple of Aphrodite of Aphrodisias.

Aphrodisias, ancient city and museum

The awe-inspiring Aphrodisias was a city dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite. Extensive quantities of Carian white and blue-grey marble were brought from local quarries to form impressive facades on buildings and create exquisite sculptures. Visitors can marvel at the well-preserved city walls, the grand temple of Aphrodite, the magnificent theatre and the sprawling stadium, all of which showcase the city’s rich history and cultural heritage.

  • ‘Tracing the footsteps of the ancient Carians’ is published in Anthology Volume 20. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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