x0x Sleeping beauty awakens Letoon
- [See more at:
x0x Sleeping beauty awakens: Letoon
By TANSEL TUZEL
The beauties of nature are like patches of heaven on earth. Surrounded
by natural beauty, this temple lies smack in the middle of the road
connecting Xanthos, ancient Lycia's greatest city, to the sea, just
above the shore where the blue of the sea meets the blue of the sky.
Known today as Kumluova, it is one of Turkey's most popular touristic
spots between Kas and Fethiye, where the silence of the meadows is
broken only by the sounds of birds and frogs.
The gleaming white fragments of the Hellenistic columns hewn from fine
marble have been lying there in the water for longer than anyone can
know. A foundation wall completely covered in decorations, rows of
stone and friezes with figures in the shape of date palm branches...A
roof gutter whose spouts are shaped like heads of lions, column
drums...All lie there scattered indifferently in the water. According
to researchers, the fragments must have absorbed water since they all
toppled forward into it.In all probability it was also the water,
regarded as sacred in antiquity, that saved them.
These fragments, which belong to one of the most beautiful temples
ever dedicated to Leto, the Anatolian Mother Goddess, is thought to
have been built in the Hellenistic period in either the late 4th or
early 3rd century B.C.
Fewer traces remain of two other shrines, to Apollo and Artemis, that
stood beside it for untold years; nor is it known when they
disappeared although they are thought to have been used in the nearby
A GROUP OF SANCTUARIES
Among the remains unearthed by French archaeologists working on the
Letoon excavations is the temple of the goddess Leto, about which the
least is known. According to researchers who have been conducting
investigations here for the last 40 years, this center, which was
blessed with water for over a thousand years, was home to a large
number of religious cults. Its last reconstruction was as a wooden
church in the pre-Byzantine period.
The Letoon, the main structure in a series of quite ordinary
architectural monuments here, is finding new life today.
One by one, with painstaking labor, the fragments are being restored
to their original places, and Leto is being reborn after a hiatus of
more than two thousand years. Eighty percent of the fragments have
survived unscathed, and all fragments of the Sella, the best-preserved
section of the temple, are thought to be intact. This project,
launched in 2001, is being directed by architect Didier Laroche, the
Site Director, and Jean-Francois Bernard. Complete reconstruction of
the temple is planned within four years.
The methods employed for placing stone on top of stone are the same as
those used in antiquity; only some substances have been added to the
mortar to better preserve the stone. The Apollo mosaic, believed to be
the only mosaic ever found in an ancient temple, is being restored in
keeping with the original at the Fethiye Museum.
FLEEING THE WRATH OF HERA
Leto, who inspired the construction by human hands of this group of
temples, blessed with water and sanctified by nature's greenery, is an
ancient mother goddess of Anatolian origin, beloved only daughter of
Coius, one of the Titans, and Phoebe. Delos Asteria is the island
where she gave birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis as she was
fleeing the wrath of Hera, wife of Zeus, king of the gods and father
of the twins, who were born within an hour of each other. This wild
and barren Aegean island would find joy and fertility with the birth
of Apollo--the place where Leto was able to fall as a pebble, anchored
by Zeus to a rock on the sea bed to protect his beloved. Leto pleaded
with the local peasants, saying, "Give me a place to bring my children
into the world where no living creature has set foot or asked any
favors until now. Where no sheep or cow has found even a blade of
grass. If you take my son to your bosom, give him refuge amidst your
rocks and build to him a temple, you will find joy and riches, for
people are going to come in droves to this god I am carrying in my
According to legend, after the villagers refused her water when she
was parched with thirst, she complained to Zeus, who turned them into
frogs--unlike the kind princess in the fairy tale who kissed a frog
and turned him into a prince. According to another legend, the goddess
Leto accomplished all this herself without recourse to Zeus.
GARDEN OF PARADISE
Said to have dwelled thereafter in a temple inside the Citadel of Troy
together with her twins, Apollo and Artemis, who illumined the world
day and night, Leto is a mythological heroine of great influence at
Excavation of the temple built to her and of the surrounding area has
been under way since 1962. The sound condition of the fragments
unearthed up to now is attributed to the fact that the complex was
systematically dismantled in the early Byzantine period. The team in
charge of the excavations and reconstruction has expended great labor
and self-sacrifice to restore this monumental legacy as a whole.
When the Letoon Project is completed the natural environment inside
the sanctuary will also have been restored, creating a garden of
paradise in which shadow, light, water and rocks are each given their
The site's true value will derive from the flora and fauna protected
there. Project Director Didier Laroche, who is working
enthusiastically to translate the project into reality, describes the
garden as follows: "A romantic, mythological garden, or a jewel box
where memories have adorned the various structures, streets and walls
in the historical process."