Situated on the border of ancient Lycia and Caria, Caunos receives much attention today for the fact that it is very close to where the giant loggerhead turtle Caretta Caretta goes ashore to deposit its eggs, for its Lyciantype tombs, for its Venetian-like channel and most importantly for its ruins. For those who arrive by yacht, you will sail from Ekincik Limani to Delikli Ada, where you can anchor and rent a small taxi boat to reach the ruins.
The existence of the Caunos ruins, which are interesting from every aspect, was made known in the year 1842. Two digs were conducted, one in 1877 and the second in 1920. Current excavation work has been carried out by Turkish archaeologists under the direction of Prof.Baki Ogün since 1967.
Ancient geographer and historian Strabon, who was from the town of Amasya in Central Anatolia, informs us that he saw a shipyard and a harbor in Caunos. The harbor that he referred to has been replaced by the lake of Sülüklü, which is situated below the acropolis. In ancient times, the sea used to come up to the back of Caunos, nearly surrounding the entire acropolis.
The geographer Scylas, who lived in the 4th century B.C., emphasized the fact that Caunos was a Carian city and stated that the Lycian border began a little further on, E of the Dalaman Stream. The city was named after its founder, Caunos, who was the son of Miletos. The famous historian Heredotus wrote that the inhabitants of Caunos believed that they were natives of the region and that their language resembled that spoken by the Carians. The inscriptions uncovered here in recent excavations resemble those of other Carian cities, which confirms what Heredotus had explained centuries ago.
Caunos revolted along with other Ionian cities against the Persians, who had captured all of Anatolia in 546 B.C. However, as the revolt failed, Caunos, along with all the other coastal cities were once again subject to Persian rule. As Mausolos, who was the Carian satrap of the Persians, wanted to implement Hellenic policies in the region, whereby Caunos could not avoid becoming affected by this situation, in that the fortification walls around this city were erected by Mausolos.
With the defeat of the Persians by Alexander in 334 B.C. Caunos, together with all of Caria was left to Queen Ada. After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., the city was captured by his general Antigonus in 313 B.C. Two years later, Ptolemy seized control of the city from the sea, However, Antigonus regained the region by defeating Ptolemy during the Salamis Naval Conflict in 306 B.C. Caunos was annexed to Lysimachos in 286 B.C. and to the Kingdom of Rhodes in 189 B.C., where it remained until 167 B.C., when the Pergamon Kingdom took over Caunos. Subsequently, the entire region was put under direct rule of the Romans in 133 B.C.
During the first century A.D., the harbor of Caunos began to fill with silt, similar to what had occurred with the harbors of Ephesos and Miletos. Though it prospered during the Roman Period, its importance waned during the Christian Period, even though it had three churches within its borders.
As the taxi boat winds its way through the channel up to Caunos, you will suddenly come face to face with several magnificent Lycian-type rock tombs. There are three stone beds inside the tombs in which the deceased were placed. From the fragments of earthenware uncovered, the tombs have been dated to the 4th century B.C. One of the three of four inscriptions that were found just above these tombs, contains two words related to the Carian language, while it is understood that the other tombs were recycled during the Roman Period. The facades of the tombs, which were carved out of the sheer rock have two columns of the Ionian order. On top of the columns, you’ll see exterior friezes above pediments which were decorated with acroters in three corners. Most of the columns are no longer intact. Of the pediments, all but one is plain, with a unique example of a relief of two lions positioned face-to-face. To the side of this incredible group of tombs is yet another tomb, which is plainer, and incomplete. On the W end of this group of tombs, which is near the village, are more Carian-type tombs which were not decorated like the others. In addition, there are niches that were opened on the lower rock surface for votive offerings.
The name Dalyan’ means fishery, and a complicated system of barriers has been built among the reeds to allow the gray mullet and sea bass to be caught as they head for the sea. Let’s go ashore at the landing next to the fishery and wander around the ruins. The first thing we see is the acropolis of Caunos, which rises 152 m. high over a cliff in the S quadrant. The fortification walls situated in the N quadrant appear to be from the Middle Ages.
The long wall starts N of the harbor then stretches in a NE direction to come to the steep rocks located up high over the village of Dalyan. The N portion of the wall appears to have been built during the time of Mausolos. The walls in the NW section possess characteristics from the Hellenistic Period. The walls from the harbor to this section were erected in the Cyclopean style and remain from the Archiac Period (5th-6th centuries B.C.) These long walls stretch the length of an empty, desolate field.
Lets start our trip by going straight over to the theater at the bottom of the acropolis. The S section of this theater, which measures 76 m. across, was carved out of the rock. Its skene, which measured 38 x 8.40 m. is demolished while its orchestra section is filled with soil. The theater was constructed so that its front face looked towards the W. As for the sections that were not built into the rocks, seating rows were constructed over cradle vault supports. There were a total of 33 seating rows divided into nine sections. As far as its layout is concerned, it resembles a typical Greek theater, but due to the vaulted lower structure, we assume that it was constructed during the Roman Period.
There are three structures to the W of the theater. The first of these is a basilica-type church, which was constructed from ashlar blocks and comprised of an apse and three aisles. To the S of the basilica are a vast Roman bath and a palaestra. Beyond the baths complex is a cistern, whereas there is a temple behind this, which dates back the Roman Period. To the N of this temple is another temple in the Ionian order which was erected in the in-antis style.
After seeing these edifices in the upper part of Roman Baths. Canons, let’s descend next to a round structure down below. You will notice a few smooth white marble columns spaced over regular intervals are positioned over a marble semi-circle. Behind this edifice is an eye-catching podium in the shape of a semi-circle that has been raised three steps. There was a temple in the Dorian order with an in-antis plan. The relation between the round structure and the temple has yet to be determined.
Today’s Sülüklü Göl was once a harbor that used to be sealed off with a massive iron chain during antiquity. Excavations carried out in the N of the harbor have revealed a stoa that looked out over the harbor. A number of statues and pedestals were positioned at both sides and in front of this stoa, which represented a wing of the harbor agora. This 94 m. long stoa, was one-sided and had two stories, the bottom one of which was of the Dorian order. An inscription found here mentions that the people of Caunos thanked the Romans for the contributions they made in beautifying their city.
There is a fountain facing the nearby stoa, measuring 5.2 x 8.5 m., which has bars in front of it and was erected in the in-antis plan. There are several inscriptions found on the side of the fountain facing the harbor which date to the 1 st century. The text of this mentions customs rules and regulations. Also, in front of the fountain is a votive which was presented to Vespasianus.
Of the inscriptions found in the center of the city, we learn that there were several temples in Caunos which were dedicated to various gods and goddesses. One of these was on the shore of the harbor, E of the agora. This 2nd century A.D. Corinthian temple, which had four columns, was constructed from architectural fragments cannibalized from other, older structures. Once we wrap up our tour of Caunos, let’s head back to our motorboat, which will transport us back to the present through that Venetian-like channel.