“Efeler Yolu”: On the Footpath of the Tmolus


Lübbey Kışlağı, [all images by the author unless stated otherwise]
I. An Ancient Route

Euripides, Bacchae, 451-465

Release his hands, for caught in the nets he is not swift enough to escape me. But your body is not ill-formed, stranger, for women’s purposes, the very reason you have come to Thebes. For your hair is long, you’re not a wrestler, scattered all over your cheeks, full of desire; and you keep your skin white, protected from the sun, by hunting after Aphrodite  beneath the shade. First then tell me who your family is.

I can tell you this easily, without boasting. I suppose you are familiar with flowery Tmolus.

I know of it; it surrounds the city of Sardis.

I am from there, and Lydia is my fatherland.

Why do you bring these rites to Greece?

Dionysus, the child of Zeus, sent me.

μέθεσθε χειρῶν τοῦδ᾽: ἐν ἄρκυσιν γὰρ ὢν
οὐκ ἔστιν οὕτως ὠκὺς ὥστε μ᾽ ἐκφυγεῖν.
ἀτὰρ τὸ μὲν σῶμ᾽ οὐκ ἄμορφος εἶ, ξένε,
ὡς ἐς γυναῖκας, ἐφ᾽ ὅπερ ἐς Θήβας πάρει:
πλόκαμός τε γάρ σου ταναός, οὐ πάλης ὕπο,
γένυν παρ᾽ αὐτὴν κεχυμένος, πόθου πλέως:
λευκὴν δὲ χροιὰν ἐκ παρασκευῆς ἔχεις,
οὐχ ἡλίου βολαῖσιν, ἀλλ᾽ ὑπὸ σκιᾶς,
τὴν Ἀφροδίτην καλλονῇ θηρώμενος.
πρῶτον μὲν οὖν μοι λέξον ὅστις εἶ γένος.
οὐ κόμπος οὐδείς: ῥᾴδιον δ᾽ εἰπεῖν τόδε.
τὸν ἀνθεμώδη Τμῶλον οἶσθά που κλύων.
οἶδ᾽, ὃς τὸ Σάρδεων ἄστυ περιβάλλει κύκλῳ.
ἐντεῦθέν εἰμι, Λυδία δέ μοι πατρίς.
πόθεν δὲ τελετὰς τάσδ᾽ ἄγεις ἐς Ἑλλάδα;
Διόνυσος ἡμᾶς εἰσέβησ᾽, ὁ τοῦ Διός.

From the road alone, it is difficult to grasp the extension of the Boz Dağ, a mountain range known in antiquity as the Tmolus. It runs from east to Izmir all the way to Turkey’s western Anatolian Plateau, with a summit at around 2200-2400 m. Now it’s tucked somewhere between the modern Turkish provinces of Izmir, Manisa and Uşak, hiding its lush valleys, irregular elevations, and largely abandoned villages. At present, the area is a destination for hikers and bikers, who spend time in between the mountains (see The Figs and Mountains of Izmir: Travel horizontally in any direction and you see no change in landscape, by Smithsonian journalist Alastair Bland who biked in the area in 2011) and mostly local tourists, who visit the area around Lake Gölcük and the Ottoman-era town of Birgi (the distance between them is around 21 km), both located at the easternmost end of the mountain range. The real attraction though is Mount Bozdağ itself, and its short skiing season. But during the journey, we traveled only in a triangle between the regional capital, modern-day Ödemiş (a former capital of the Aydınoğlu Sultanate in the 13th and 14th century), the historical Birgi and the more remote settlement of Lübbey.

Even though the Tmolus is flanked by the valleys of very important fluvial channels in antiquity, and in the neighborhood of the Aegean Coast, one of the best known parts of the ancient world – Aeolis, Ionia, Lydia –  little is known about the mountains. This remoteness has contributed to their mythological status as a home of the gods: Euripides tells us in his posthumous masterpiece that Dionysus was born there (and already in the opening lines, the God informs us that he has arrived in Thebes, taking a mortal form, after leaving behind many riches in Lydia and Phrygia; Eur. Ba. 13-22). The first appearance of the mythological Tmolus, goes back to Theognis, a 6th century lyric poet from Megara, <Οὔποτε τοῖσ’ ἐχθροῖσιν ὑπὸ ζυγὸν αὐχένα θήσω / δύσλοφον, οὐδ’ εἴ μοι Τμῶλος ἔπεστι κάρηι.> ( Never will I set my neck under the galling yoke of mine enemies, nay, not though Tmolus be upon my head); according to myth Tmolus is a mountain-god, son of Ares and Theogone and he judged the musical contest between Pan and Apollo (Ov. Met. 11.146-194). Mount Tmolus is named after him, a king of Lydia, with the capital Sardis at its foot and Hypaepa on the southern slope.

Ancient Lydia, map by Sami Patacı

The historical Lydia, however, is an Iron Age kingdom, named after 2nd millennium king Lydus (Hdt. 1.7) from the dynasty of the Maeonian kings, and which occupied, in its pre-Greek setting, large swathes of Western Anatolia. It was reduced after the Persian contest roughly to its Hellenistic border with Ionia and Phrygia, especially after Cyrus conquered Sardis. But for all the importance of Lydia, the mythical Mt. Tmolus remained a place of isolation, shepherds and woodcutters.

The myth of its seclusion continued into the Christian era with monastic foundations but once again sources are hard to come by. Yet the importance of Mt. Tmolus had always to do with its privileged location between the Anatolian Plateau and the Aegean Coast, except that as Western explorers found out in the 19th century (especially the Swiss botanist Edmond Boissier in 1842), it cannot be crossed from east to west in modern times; “the fertile valleys are separated from each other by large and complex ranges of mountains where communication is difficult and agricultural resources are inadequate to support a large population” (Foss, 1978).

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 8.49.37 AM
Map of Efeler Yolu

However the Tmolus is not impassable: “Most of the range consists of smaller chains of peaks which run north and south and enclose long, narrow valleys, called yayla, ‘summer pasture’, in Turkish” (Foss, 1978). Ancient roads led from Sardis to Hypaepa (an ancient city at the southern slope of the the Tmolus), a convenient route that connected the plateau and the coast, and that existed since Hittite times. It bypassed the Tmolus altogether along the Hermus, following parallel mountain ranges with lower elevations.

Other parallel roads were carved by political events: the Persian conquest of the Asia Minor in 546 BCE and the subsequent Athenian take over in 499 BCE. From the perspective of a  contemporary visitor, the unspoiled nature is breathtaking and inviting, but under the dense vegetation of the valleys or the barren slopes, lurk long centuries of seasonal migrations, archaeological remains, agricultural landscaping, population exchange and massive public works. Since the departure of the man-god Dionysus for Thebes, the mysterious land of the gods has been hotly contested, often in battle, but ultimately abandoned to overgrown nature.

Lübbey Kışlağı

II. One City, Many Names

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 8.19.2-3

A message, however, reaching them from Chalcideus to tell them to go back again, and that Amorges was at hand with an army by land. They sailed to Dios Hieron and there saw ten more ships sailing up with which Diomedon had started from Athens after Thrasycles, They were fleeing with one ship to Ephesus, the rest to Teos.”

καὶ ἐλθούσης παρὰ Χαλκιδέως ἀγγελίας αὐτοῖς ἀποπλεῖν πάλιν, καὶ ὅτι Ἀμόργης παρέσται κατὰ γῆν στρατιᾷ, ἔπλευσαν ἐς Διὸς ἱερόν: καὶ καθορῶσιν ἑκκαίδεκα ναῦς, ἃς ὕστερον ἔτι Θρασυκλέους Διομέδων ἔχων ἀπ᾽ Ἀθηνῶν προσέπλει. καὶ ὡς εἶδον, ἔφευγον μιᾷ μὲν νηὶ ἐς Ἔφεσον, αἱ δὲ λοιπαὶ ἐπὶ τῆς Τέω.

Anna Komnene, The Alexiad, 9.7

Finally, summing up everything, he judged it wise to arrest Nicephorus. The latter was preparing his meditated escape and, wishing the start on his way to Christopolis during the night, sent to Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the evening and begged him to lend him the swift steed the Emperor had given him. However, Constantine refused, saying it was impossible to give away a gift from the Emperor of such value to another the very same day.

Καὶ εἰς ἓν τὸ πᾶν συναγαγὼν δεῖν ἔκρινεν κατασχεῖν τὸν Νικηφόρον. Ἐκεῖνος δὲ τὸν μελε τώμενον ἐπισπεύδων δρασμὸν καὶ βουλόμενος νυκτὸς τῆς πρὸς Χριστούπολιν φερούσης ἅψασθαι ἑσπέρας ἀποστεί λας εἰς τὸν Πορφυρογέννητον Κωνσταντῖνον τὸν δοθέντα αὐτῷ παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως ταχυδρόμον ἵππον ᾐτεῖτο ἀποχα ρίσασθαί οἱ. Ὁ δὲ ἀνένευε λέγων μὴ δύνασθαι δῶρον τοιοῦ τον αὐθήμερον τοῦ βασιλέως ἀποποιήσασθαι.


The historical center of Birgi is our base camp for exploration and one of the arteries in a 500 km long walking path, the Efeler Yolu (roughly translated as the Bandit’s Route, explanation forthcoming); a path connecting partly abandoned villages and valleys that were once inhabited by the so-called bandits of the area. Unlike the famous Lycian Way, extending from Fethiye to Antalya, designed and marked by amateur historian Kate Clow (and Turkey’s most famous footpath), however Efeler Yolu is a coordinated effort of Ege University in Izmir, under the direction of Dr. Özgür Özkaya, involving key stakeholders in the region, such as municipalities and development agencies.

The newly established footpath, overlaid on ancient and modern roads, seeks to reactivate the region through different strategies of sustainable tourism. Already in the 19th century (Wagner, 1892) the Ottoman Birgi was largely abandoned as population displaced towards the regional capital Ödemiş, but it is now a heritage tourism destination, with its Ottoman period houses and artisanal production, from which traces of its antiquity are rather absent and have to be carefully carved out through obscure sources.

Its ancient name of Dios Hieron – Sanctuary of Zeus – is very poorly attested and there’s a confusion in the sources given that there’s another Dios Hieron on the Ionian coast that figures prominently in Greek sources as a city in the Delian League (Thuc. 8.19.2), and Thucydides, Stefan of Byzantium, Pliny the Elder, Strabo and Herodotus provide confusing, often conflicting accounts. The only reliable source is merely the name of the city listed by Ptolemy, and there’s doubt whether we are talking about the same exact settlement, or somewhere nearby. Many coins were minted here in antiquity with the inscription “Διοσιερειτων” or different variants thereof.

“Seal of Leo, the most humble bishop of Pyrgion”, Byzantine seal, 11th/12th century obverse, Dumbarton Oaks

Its name changed to Diopolis and Christians called it Christopolis (see Anna Komnene), but it was known as Pyrgion by the end of the Byzantine era – a place mentioned in many sources but without much detail. When Pyrgion fell to the Turks in 1307, its name changed to Birgi and became the capital of a sultanate. By the time Ibn Battuta visited in the 14th century he described the hospitality of Muslim institutions, but little is known about Christian life through the centuries, except that a number of Greeks and Armenians were also settled in the area.

Ulu Cami, detail of spolia, Lydian lion, İzmir Kültür ve Turizm Dergisi

The great mosque of Birgi (Ulu Cami), was erected in 1312, by Mehmed Bey of the Aydınoğlu Emirate, and the builder integrated into the construction a fascinating piece of spolia: A Lydian lion, bearing witness to the pre-Greek past of the region (a Lydian tomb was excavated in the region as a part of the Sardis expeditions in the 20th century). After Turks settled in the surrounding area, nomadism became the established way of life, and whole tribes would move great distances between the summer and winter pastures, called yayla and kışlak in Turkish (Foss, 1978),]. Mt Tmolus or the Boz Dağ, was known through the Ottoman period as a refugee for bandits (hence the name Efeler Yolu), but its reputation for banditry is also ancient: In the Novellae Constitutiones, a code of Roman law initiated by Roman Emperor Justinian I, there was a discussion of Pisidian banditry and the punishments meted out to thieves and bandits. It is also thought that the lack of Christian sources is perhaps due to heretic sects living in this remote highland. But during the Ottoman era, the authorities found it extremely difficult to impose law and order in these valleys.

Ulu Cami, the Great Mosque of Birgi

Several kilometers from Birgi, we arrive at the kışlak of Lübbey, a semi abandoned winter village where only a handful of inhabitants, ruined houses and a mosque remain. Interestingly enough, the archaeological knowledge of the area is very poor, and most of the descriptive work of Clive Foss is based on the yayla, not on the kışlak. Visiting the kışlak with the Izmir Vakfı (a non-profit organization), we are led by Emin Başaranbilek, an archaeologist from Birgi, who completes the picture of this settlement on the Cayster valley, called Küçük Menderes in Turkish, largely against the background of the work of Foss and the Sardis expeditions (he’s also written about the mosque of Lübbey in Turkish). Information about this settlement, populated by Turkmen in the modern era, is very scarce, mostly limited to the late Ottoman period and cadastral records. The history of Lübbey is completely unknown, as the word has no meaning in Turkish (toponyms that begin with L are foreign to Turkish), and could be perhaps related to Datbey (a place famous for kiln firing), around Hypaepa, an important Greek city on the southern slope of the Tmolus that loses importance to Birgi/Pyrgion.

III. Wine from Tmolus

Painting by Emin Başaranbilek, historical hammam, undated

Euripides, Bacchae, 135-167

He is sweet in the mountains, whenever, after the running dance, he falls on the ground, wearing the sacred garment of fawn skin, hunting the blood of the slain goat, a raw-eaten delight, rushing to the Phrygian, the Lydian mountains, and the leader of the dance is Bromius, evoe!

The plain flows with milk, it flows with wine, it flows with the nectar of bees. The Bacchic one, raising the flaming torch of pine and his thyrsos darts about, like the smoke of Syrian incense,  arousing the wanderers with his racing and dancing, agitating them with his shouts, casting his rich locks into the air.

And among the Maenads his voice cries deep: “Go, Bacchae, go, Bacchae, with the luxury of Tmolus that flows with gold, sing of Dionysus, beneath the heavy beat of drums, celebrating in delight the god of delight with Phrygian shouts and cries, when the sweet-sounding sacred pipe sounds a sacred playful tune suited to the wanderers, to the mountain, to the mountain!”

And the Bacchantes, rejoicing like a foal with its grazing mother, rouses her swift foot in a gamboling dance.

ἡδὺς ἐν ὄρεσιν, ὅταν ἐκ θιάσωνδρομαί-
ων πέσῃ πεδόσε, νε-
βρίδος ἔχων ἱερὸν ἐνδυτόν, ἀγρεύων
αἷμα τραγοκτόνον, ὠμοφάγον χάριν, ἱέμε-
νος ἐς ὄρεα Φρύγια, Λύδι᾽, ὁ δ᾽ ἔξαρχος Βρόμιος,
ῥεῖ δὲ γάλακτι πέδον, ῥεῖ δ᾽ οἴνῳ, ῥεῖ δὲ μελισσᾶν
Συρίας δ᾽ὡςλιβάνου κα-
πνὸν ὁ Βακχεὺς ἀνέχων
πυρσώδη φλόγα πεύκας
ἐκ νάρθηκος ἀίσσει
δρόμῳ καὶ χοροῖσιν
πλανάτας ἐρεθίζων
ἰαχαῖς τ᾽ ἀναπάλλων,
τρυφερόν τε πλόκαμον εἰς αἰθέρα ῥίπτων.
ἅμα δ᾽εὐάσμασι τοιάδ᾽ ἐπιβρέμει:
Ὦ ἴτε βάκχαι,
ὦ ἴτε βάκχαι,
Τμώλου χρυσορόου χλιδᾷ
μέλπετε τὸν Διόνυσον
βαρυβρόμων ὑπὸ τυμπάνων,
εὔια τὸν εὔιον ἀγαλλόμεναι θεὸν
ἐν Φρυγίαισι βοαῖς ἐνοπαῖσί τε,
λωτὸς ὅταν εὐκέλαδος
ἱερὸς ἱερὰ παίγματα βρέμῃ, σύνοχα
φοιτάσιν εἰς ὄρος εἰς ὄρος: ἡδομέ-
να δ᾽ ἄρα, πῶλος ὅπως ἅμα ματέρι
φορβάδι, κῶλον ἄγει ταχύπουν σκιρτήμασι βάκχα.

In Euripides’ Bacchae, the god Dionysus is constantly bragging about the quality of wines from Lydia and the Tmolus, fact that has been corroborated by Strabo, “And indeed the Ephesian and Metropolitan wines are good; and Mt. Mesogis and Mt. Tmolus and the Catacecaumene country and Cnidos and Smyrna and other less significant places produce exceptionally good wine, whether for enjoyment or medicinal purposes” (Strab. 14.1).

The Aegean coast has always been famous for its wine culture (Hom. Il. 13.673) but in the historical agriculture presented in Foss’ description, vineyards are quite absent: Fruit and nut trees of all kinds, wheat, potatoes, hazelnuts, chestnuts, grapes, apples, and pomegranates. In modern times, the vineyards are located on the lower slopes of the Boz Dağ, though of course wine culture has been affected by population exchanges that drove away from Anatolia Christian minorities traditionally concerned with wine-making. But Turkey’s Aegean region, nevertheless, has experienced a mild rebirth of its wine culture in recent years, paradoxically as the currency has slipped and freedom of expression became very restricted.

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 12.20.04 AM
Dios Hieron minted coins, Lydia, reign of Antoninus Pius, circa 147-161 CE, ƐΠΙ Λ ΙΟVΛ(Ι) ΜΙΘΡΟV ΔΙΟϹΙƐΡΙΤΩΝ, Goddess Hera, Ashmolean Museum

Part of the appeal for Efeler Yolu is actually the return to small scale agriculture that can serve other purpose than survival: The region’s archaeology of food, for which we have no good sources, indicates that not only is the agricultural panorama radically different from antiquity (unlike Greece for example), but it has profoundly transformed the environment as well. For a country whose modernization has always emphasized large-scale industrial production, massive dependence on imports – a dangerous situation as the currency has lost so much of its value – and a move away from traditional craftsmanship, there’s a lack of much needed incentives for local, regional agriculture. As Alastair Bland mentions in his article from the experience of biking through the ancient roads of the Tmolus in 2011, there was plenty of local produce on offer, olives, figs, oil, and a limited quantity of fruits. Would it be possible to transform back the environment through a gesture as simple as a footpath? Perhaps not, but it creates a different, deeper historical space, where such ideas are possible.

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 7.00.57 PM
Lübbey Yaylası, Clive Foss, 1978

The cultural history of nomadism and the role of traditional religion and the progressive abandonment of villages have not only transformed the environment, but brought gigantic rings of poverty to capital cities that can no longer sustain a growing young population with high employment rates. By the end of the Ottoman era and definitely in the beginning of the Turkish republic, nomadism was largely eradicated and a degree of law and order was established, but with its departure came also the abandonment of the Tmolus.

It might seem strange to casual observers today, but classical and Byzantine settlements have been found throughout the area, and while significant remains of antiquity have not been found, it is also suspected that the banditry culture contributed to massive looting and that antiquities were unearthed before heritage laws were passed. According to Clive Foss, who documented a number of inscriptions in the 1970s, inscriptions were broken up for stone and carried off for roadworks, without much oversight. That this happens is no surprise to observers in Turkey, where archaeological sites are covered by roadworks and botched restorations are a matter of course.

Chris Roosevelt, an archaeologist specializing in the Lydia region, has also documented testimonies from other archaeologists in the same period and as late as the early 2000s, about mysterious shepherds, overnight digs, weak law enforcement and unreported antiquities,  including looting and destruction of remains. He even theorizes that in the absence of the state (in the remains-rich Bin Tepe, north of Mt. Tmolus), archaeological excavations in fact encourage more plunder and looting. It is perhaps possible, to think, that a multidirectional project such as Efeler Yolu, a coordinated effort across different state and private actors and agencies, could in fact serve to magnify efforts in heritage (preventive) preservation. Through its engagement with nature and the built environment (an artificial construct with political implications), a contemporary archaeological practice (of the kind espoused by archaeologists such as Dan Hicks and his project “Lande: The Calais Jungle” or Yannis Hamilakis’ “Transient Matter”) could arise, reversing the socio-cultural damage that survival agriculture and decades of poor planning have inflicted on the Lydian mountains.

IV. The Other Town

The Other Town, qantara.de

Anna Komnene, The Alexiad, 14.1.2

The Emperor was detained for some time by his care for the Franks; and when he had arranged everything satisfactorily for them, he took the road home to Byzantium. But after his return he did not give himself entirely to rest and repose, for, when he reflected how the barbarians had laid the whole sea-coast of Smyrna in ruins up to Attalia, he thought it would be a disgrace if he could not restore the cities to their pristine state, bring back their former prosperity, and re-people them with the inhabitants who were now scattered far and wide.

 Ὁ δὲ αὐτοκράτωρ τῆς τῶν Κελτῶν ἔτι φροντίδος εἴχετο· καὶ τὰ κατ’ αὐτοὺς εὖ διαθέμενος τῆς πρὸς τὸ Βυζάντιον φερούσης ἥψατο. Ἐπανελθὼν δὲ οὐ πρὸς ἀνέσεις καὶ ἀναπαύλας ἀνέκλινεν ὅλως, ἀλλὰ λογι ζόμενος αὖθις ὅπως τὰ κατὰ τὴν παραλίαν τῆς Σμύρνης καὶ μέχρις αὐτῆς Ἀτταλείας οἱ βάρβαροι τελείως ἠρίπω σαν, ἐν δεινῷ ἐποιεῖτο εἰ μὴ καὶ τὰς πόλεις αὖθις ἐς τὴν προτέραν ἐπαναγάγοι κατάστασιν καὶ τὸν πρῴην ἀποδοίη κόσμον καὶ τοὺς ἁπανταχῆ σκεδασθέντας ἐποίκους αὐταῖς ἐπανασώσοιτο.

Constantine P. Cavafy, “Anna Komnena”, Poems 1919-1933

In the prologue to her Alexiad,
Anna Komnena laments her widowhood.

Her soul is all vertigo.
“And I bathe my eyes,” she tells us,
“in rivers of tears… Alas, for the waves” of her life,
“alas for the revolutions.” Sorrow burns her
“to the bones and the marrow of the splitting” of her soul.

But the truth seems to be this power-hungry woman
knew only one sorrow that really mattered;
even if she doesn’t admit it, this arrogant Greek woman
had only one consuming pain:
that with all her dexterity,
she never managed to gain the throne,
virtually snatched out of her hands by impudent John.

Στον πρόλογο της Aλεξιάδος της θρηνεί,
για την χηρεία της η Άννα Κομνηνή.
Εις ίλιγγον είν’ η ψυχή της. «Και
ρείθροις δακρύων», μας λέγει, «περιτέγγω
τους οφθαλμούς….. Φευ των κυμάτων» της ζωής της,
«φευ των επαναστάσεων». Την καίει η οδύνη
«μέχρις οστέων και μυελών και μερισμού ψυχής».
Όμως η αλήθεια μοιάζει που μια λύπη μόνην
καιρίαν εγνώρισεν η φίλαρχη γυναίκα·
έναν καϋμό βαθύ μονάχα είχε
(κι ας μην τ’ ομολογεί) η αγέρωχη αυτή Γραικιά,
που δεν κατάφερε, μ’ όλην την δεξιότητά της,
την Βασιλείαν ν’ αποκτήσει· μα την πήρε
σχεδόν μέσ’ απ’ τα χέρια της ο προπετής Ιωάννης.


The presence of the Ottoman minorities along the footpath of Efeler Yolu is as weak as the evidence for its classical past, and often apocryphal – mostly accounts of Western travelers. Although in the case of Birgi hardly avoidable, given the status of Christopolis, and especially Pyrgion, as a borderline in the mountains of a receding empire as the Seljuk presence closed in on the Byzantines. In a way, Turks and Greeks first encountered each other in these mountains, and continued to do so for centuries. The erasure of the Greek presence is today near absolute, to the extent that a number of Roman and Byzantine tombs (even inside of Birgi) are mistakenly attributed to the Ottoman Seljuks, and incorrectly dated. The Fall of Constantinople, thanks not to the Turks but to Latins on August 12, 1204, thus moving the Byzantine Empire out of Constantinople and to Nicaea,  created a wave of refugees from the city to the Aegean region and a new dynamic in the area (Anna Komnene writes bitterly about the first Italo-Norman invasions). This situation surprisingly empowered the Byzantine presence versus the new Seljuk arrivals from the East.

But the nomadic nature of the Turks put the long-settled Greek and Armenian population at terrible disadvantage, and since then, imperial power became increasingly fragmented around this region. Many Byzantines converted to Islam, sometimes for practical reasons but often also forced; other populations welcomed the Ottomans in protest of the oppressive Byzantine taxation and even fought alongside them, and since then both Muslims and Christians (and a minor Jewish population) lived in a complex archipelago of settlements, in which facing each other was unavoidable.

The highland gave advantage to the Turkish bandits in terms of inaccessible geography, but in terms of battle it is a place where scarce resources and water make it impossible to remain hidden for long, therefore mobility between the valleys was a necessity. Birgi fell (1307) long before Constantinople and the Aydın sultanate was established rapidly, but it wasn’t going to be the last time Turks and Greeks would be facing it off in battle: On May 15, 1919 the Greek forces advanced as far as Birgi during the independence war and not unlike other battles in the Anatolian Aegean, Greeks were defeated with devastating consequences.

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 5.02.58 PM
Application by A. Stavrakoudis, οικοισμοι προσφυγες

An online application, created by Anastasios Stavrakoudis, at the University of Ioannina, maps out all the locations from which Greeks were expelled on the aftermath of the Greek-Turkish war in 1922, when Greece and Turkey exchanged their entire minority populations (after hundreds of thousands were massacred, the vast majority in Turkey), with the exception of Istanbul. You easily can find Birgi and Ödemiş in this map. A documentary film by Turkish filmmaker Nefin Dinç and Herkül Millas, a Greek writer from the minorities of Anatolia, “The Other Town” (2011), takes place in two towns, one in Turkey (Birgi) and one in Greece (Dimitsana), on the mountains of Peloponnese, a place very similar to Mt. Tmolus, and a borderland with the Ottomans that played a role in the Greek independence in 1821. In both towns, Millas discusses the ‘other’, with both the young and the elderly, in places where people have learnt about each other only through the history textbooks that present only one version of events, being both versions quite symmetrically based on the similar events and nationalistic discourse that has led to multigenerational ethnic hatred.

The Greek presence on the Aegean coast and the Tmolus is something that cannot be expunged from memory, the play of Euripides tells us. In the vicinity of Lübbey, the remote yayla we just visited, a Hellenistic inscription was found by Foss, bearing the uncommon name Nicopolis, attested only in Hypaepa, but all of this disappeared from public memory in Turkey, and traces are difficult to pin down without specialized archaeological knowledge, how is this process possible? The 500 km path of Efeler Yolu, almost unknowingly, on its twenty-something village stops – chosen for a number of strategic reasons, highlights not only the history of ancient roads in a remote and importantly connected region of historical Lydia, but also uncovers an unfinished, multilayered, historical memory, both recent and in the far past, rich in archaeological implications and made invisible not only by the overgrown nature but also by the political maneuvers of modern nation states. According to Millas, myths mean more than they narrate, “Nations believe in myths even if the myths are not sensible and rational, they are not documented, they are full of contradictions, even if they are proven fake.”

Whether a project so ambitious (it’s still not fully operational, and I suspect, much work remains to be done), and so deeply embedded in institutions of the state at a time of turmoil will be capable of independently achieving aims other than presenting a neutral (or neutralized) image of the past/present, remains to be seen. As we know from the struggles of indigenous peoples in many countries at present, the environment is never neutral, and represents a key factor in the frontline of decolonization, especially against the background of redrawing historical borders and questions of belonging. In a country that has historically struggled with complexity and cultural memory, and where the history of minorities has been largely erased and archaeology is a contentious point in the construction of national identity, it is not possible to turn the clock back. Nevertheless, the hope remains that a vision of sustainable development comes not at the expense of a serious consideration of the value of material culture that might problematize the past not as myth, but as shared heritage. So much remains to be seen insofar as what lies ahead in the rest of the month-long trail.

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 7.14.53 PM
Hellenistic inscription, the rare name Nicopolis, Lübbey Yaylası, Clive Foss, 1978

George Seferis, “Mythistorima”, XIX, 1935

Even if the wind does blow it brings us no relief
the shade cast by the cypress-tree is tight and narrow
and all around are steep paths leading to the mountains;

they weight upon us
those friends who no longer know how to die.

Κι αν ο αγέρας φυσά δε μας δροσίζει
κι ο ίσκιος μένει στενός κάτω απ’ τα κυπαρίσσιακι
όλο τριγύρω ανήφοροι στα βουνά·
μας βαραίνουν
οι φίλοι που δεν ξέρουν πια πώς να πεθάνουν.

*In the course of the coming year, I will visit a number of points in the trail of Efeler Yolu, seeking the map out details and stories from classical antiquity, Byzantine and pre-modern past of the region. Efeler Yolu is on Instagram, only in Turkish.

Visiting Lübbey Kışlağı with İzmir Vakfı


Dimiter Angelov, The Byzantine Hellene: The Life of Emperor Theodore Laskaris and Byzantium in the Thirteenth Century, Harvard University Press, 2019

Emin Başaranbilek, Lübbey Kışlağı ve Lübbey Camisi, 2015

Clive Foss, Explorations in Mount Tmolus, California Studies in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 11 (1978), pp. 21-60

Dimitri Korobeinikov, Byzantium and the Turks in the Thirteenth Century, Oxford Studies in Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 2014

Herkül Millas, The Other Town: How Greeks and Turks perceive their mythical neighbors, 2011

George Ramsay, The Historical Geography of Asia Minor, Royal Geographical Society, Supplementary Papers, Vol. 4, John Murray, 1890

Alexandros Rizos Rankabes, Antiquités Helléniques ou répertoire d’inscriptions et d’autres antiquités, Athens Archaeological Society, 1842

Louis Robert, Monnaies grecques de l’époque impériale, Revue Numismatique, Vol. 18 (1976), pp. 25-56

Christopher Roosevelt, The Archaeology of Lydia, Cambridge University Press, 2014

Christopher H. Roosevelt, Christina Luke, Mysterious Shepherds and Hidden Treasures: The Culture of Looting in Lydia, Western Turkey, Journal of Field Archaeology, 31-2 (2016), pp. 185-198

Speros Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California Press, 1971

G. Weber, Hypaepa, le Kaleh d’Aïasourat, Birghi et Oedémich, Revue des Études Grecques, Vol. 5-17 (1892), pp. 7-21

Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a writer and art critic based in Istanbul. He is interested in the Greek heritage of the Asia Minor and the relationship between (pseudo)archaeology and nationalism in the Eastern Mediterranean. He’s also tweeting about Classics, Byzantium, contemporary art and Turkey/Greece.


2 thoughts on ““Efeler Yolu”: On the Footpath of the Tmolus

Leave a Reply