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Sleeping beauty awakens Letoon

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Posted 21 March 2005 - 22:05

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 limestone quarries.

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.

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 womb.”

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.
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 Xanthos.
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 due.
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.”


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