Lost in Corycus Necropolis

After having had a look at the castles in Kizkalesi we decided to continue to the ancient/medieval burial site, or Corycus necropolis just across the highway. The location is easily recognized by the carved picture of a Roman soldier and the grave houses behind it. However, one can be forgiven for mistaking the grave houses here for being the whole necropolis. After all, the area is overgrown and difficult to get an overview of. The burial site continues at least a kilometer all the way up to the churches on the hill.

The largest funerary monuments are the grave houses. They contain many graves, in practice functioning as family graves. Streets and stairs cut into the rock lead between the houses, making it indeed a city of the dead. An information sign outside the castle claims there are thousands of sarcophagi. Even though most of the monuments are sarcophagi, the number is probably an exaggeration. Most of the sarcophagi are standing freely, some even in long rows, another type is cut directly into the rock.

Great care has been taken in constructing the necropolis. However after the inhabitants abandoned the city, the eternal rest of the people buried here has been disturbed. All of the visible graves have been opened by treasure hunters at some point during the last 1000 years. They have broken the seals to the houses and pushed aside or cracked the lids to the sarcophagi. Only empty graves remain, giving the impression of an apocalyptic scene from the Christian end times where the dead have arisen and the world itself passed on.

Our plan of action was to find the ancient road that is supposed to go through the necropolis all the way to the churches. After exploring the monuments next to the highway we followed a road up the hill. By an old road turning to the side from the modern road, we found an ornamental sarcophagus, indicating this was the right way. But it turned out it wouldn't be that easy.

After about one hundred meters the road ended in an orchard. Well, what now? Either we were following the wrong road, or it had been covered by the orchard, meaning it would continue on the other side. We tried walking around, but the road didn't reappear. Instead, to continue we had to follow a narrow path going further down into a small valley. The necropolis still continued with its monuments, and with lemon and olive orchards in between. Technically we were in someones garden, on the other hand they had decided to plant in an ancient grave site, but probably out of necessity though.

Now when the road was completely gone, we were following small paths between the graves and orchards. In some places there were signs that someone has been digging recently, and later I saw many more places which had been dug at. In a hidden place like this, treasure hunters, or more precisely grave robbers can work undisturbed. Unfortunately. The most recent archaeological dig has been done, well let's say a very long time ago. Maybe even a century. Considering the sheer number of historical sites in Turkey, keeping all under sight is really difficult.

We climbed a rocky hill to get a better view of our position. From there we could see the churches about 400 meters away, behind a valley with difficult terrain. By this point the easiest way out of here was to continue forwards.

This is the only place in the necropolis where we found actual bones. Only a few 10 cm long pieces, weathered and cracked. Apparently that is what happens to bones exposed to the environment for centuries. If they were human bones is a completely different question though.

On the ground empty shotgun shells were strewn around. What have they been shooting at? Hunting, or what? At this point it didn't feel very secure anymore and we wanted to hastily get to the other side of the valley. If someone with ill intentions found us here, it wouldn't be good.

We didn't have an easy time to navigate through the maze of orchards and graves. In some places we had to climb steep rocks, and in other places pass through thorny bushes. When we finally made it out, we were surprised we actually managed to find a way, and in time to get to the churches before sunset.

After reaching this grave house it was easy to find the ancient road again, which definitely was a relief. From here the road is still passable all the way to another ancient city, Elaioussa Sebaste, but our end goal for this day was the churches. 

A more recent grave. Around it were more newer graves (as in around a hundred years old), where different old  carved rocks had been used as headstones. The most recent people to live among the ancient ruins in this area are the nomadic Yörük people. Probably these graves belong to them.

Here, near the churches, the graves are much more numerous, as the patrons of the churches were buried closer to them. According to the French orientalist Victor Langlois who traveled the area in the 1850s, most of the inscriptions on the graves are from Byzantine times. They describe priests and other church officials, artisans, and merchants.

The final resting place of the banker Eugene.

Finally at the churches, but I will save those for the next post.

To be continued...

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