Write:Melih Uslu Photos: Ömer Doğan
How about taking a pastoral Aegean tour from the shores of Lake Bafa, which conceals the telltale signs of thousands of years of history, to Şirince, accompanied by marvelous views of nature?
After landing in Bodrum Milas Airport, we head out toward Milas with the car we rent. Our first stop in the district so famed for its historic houses is Beçin Citadel. Behind the citadel, which towers over a precipitous hill, there is a broad flatland on which there was the ancient capital of the Menteşe Beylic. Orhan Bey Mosque, Karapaşa Madrassah, Emir Courtyard, Yelli Mosque Complex, Kubbeli Fountain—most of these structures date back to the 14th century. The tomb at the entrance of the city, which resembles a ghost town amid elephantine olive trees, belongs to Ahmet Gazi, the Menteşe Bey. We advance alongside centuries-old caravansaries toward the municipal square. All kinds of things are to be found in the historic bazaar on Türkocağı Avenue, from rugs to paintings.
The Mystery of Latmos
With Aksivri Mountain—the highest peak of the Milas Plain—to our side, we head toward Lake Bafa. The Latmos—or Beşparmak—Mountains on the shore of the lake resemble a mysterious stairway leading up to the skies with their sawtooth contours. The village of Kapıkırı on the northern shore of the lake is interwoven with the ruins of the ancient town of Heraklia. Lake Bafa, historically an important coast, was severed from the sea by the alluvial soils carried by the rivers. Today, a distance of around fifteen kilometers separates the lake and the sea. A year-round shelter to numerous rare bird species, the lake welcomes ornithologists from all over the world. Hopping in a small boat and gliding over the blue waters of the lake is a great pleasure. We near the islets that have activated our sense of discovery with the mysterious ruins they house. After our tour of the lake, we decide to go hiking in the Beşparmak Mountains. Our objective is to see the cave paintings left from prehistoric times. It is more or less impossible to find the cave in which the rock paintings are without taking a local guide with you from the village. Our hike starts on a historical trail near Gölyaka. We learn that there are nearly forty kinds of orchids present around the lake. After a ninety-minute hike over rock terrain, we finally reach Karadere Cave. The eight-thousand-year-old murals on this large rock cavity, which has a narrow entrance, were given the name “The Dancers of Latmos.” The remainder of the road goes to the Yediler Monastery, which dates to the seventh century. Our guide tells us that there are fourteen separate trekking trails around the lake. Donkeys are used on some of these trails, which require more than six hours of hiking, to carry gear. On some trails along the Kings’ Road, hikers can stay in yörük tents.
We are on the south shores of the Büyük Menderes River. The Akköy–Balat road continues to the ancient town of Milet. The road leading on to Lake Karine (Dil) from here is well worth seeing. Starting from where the plain ends, the shallows of the sea stretch across a kilometers-wide area. The turquoise waters of the Karine, separated from the sea by a long, narrow strip of land, join the infinity of the sky at the horizon. Spread over approximately twenty-five kilometers, the lake is the largest of the lagoons in the Menderes Delta. The anglers prepare long pikes as they have done for centuries, using thousands of these pikes to construct natural weirs in the shallow waters. Accompanied by vibrantly colored country flowers, we head toward the Dilek Peninsula. Named one of the Mediterranean’s most precious biogenetic reserves by the European Council, the peninsula was declared a national park in 1966. Taking a break in Güllübahçe before arriving in Söke is a good idea—Güllübahçe is as beautiful as rural Tuscany with its lush green valleys, and next to it are the ruins of a lovely ancient town called Priene. Comfortably accessible from here on out, Söke owes its rapid development to its fertile fields. Now our route progresses from the edge of the Küçük Menderes Plain toward Selçuk. The plains, named the “golden plains” by renowned tragedist Euripides, conceal within it the villagers who hoe cotton and tobacco fields amid the mist coating it in the mornings like a yellow cloud. The local people, who earn their living off the land, wrap silk headscarves around their head to protect themselves form the heat; these glossy orange headscarves flash on and off under the bright Aegean sun like individual lighthouses. In Selçuk, where we are greeted by the Ayasuluk Citadel, we first tour the ancient town of Ephesus. The pastoral scenery, meanwhile, begins on the Şirince road, featuring flower-coated meadows, rural coffee houses perched on creek banks, and the rattles of sheep and goats that break the silence… In Şirince, which rests against a green, bowl-shaped slope surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, we partake in the pleasure of enjoying a leisurely, Aegean-style day.
Mysterious islets ornament the lush green shores of Lake Bafa.
The centuries-old houses in the district center of Milas possess a unique architecture.
A rowboat trip on Lake Bafa at dusk.
A rich archaeological collection is on display at Milas Museum.
Detail from Beçin Citadel, the command center of the Menteşe Beylic.
Travel is made nicer by the local people’s warm approach.
Yediler Monastery, near Kapıkırı village, is decked in frescoes.
İsabey Mosque in Selçuk is the product of Anatolia’s Beylic era.
The Aegean route meanders among fertile plains and orchards.
The road stretching from Lake Bafa to Şirince promises a highly pleasant journey.
Magnesia is one of the several ancient towns near Söke.
Ancient hiking trails are concealed along the shores of Lake Bafa.
The white washed houses of Şirince stand out for their wooden trim.
Bread has been baked for centuries in Şirince’s street bakeries.
Şirince-syle kibbeh is served with fresh vegetables.
Small bells with wood embellishments are used as doorbells in Şirince.