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S U M M A R Y

Early Byzantine Settlements and Rural House Architecture in Central Lycia
Bülent İŞLER
Surveys conducted by the author in the mountainous area north of Demre (Myra) between 2006 and 2009 with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and under the supervision of the Antalya Museum have provided much data on the region’s settlement pattern and architecture in the Early Byzantine period. The sites covered include the villages of Çağman and Muskar in the district of Demre, and their quarters called Devekuyusu, Alacahisar, Karabel, Doğu and Batı Asarcık, Alakilise, Dikmen and Yılanbaşı. While the structures identified vary from houses to military and religious buildings, they still retain their authentic local architecture and thus shed light onto the rural life of the region in the Early Byzantine period. The study presented here aims at contributing, though small it may be, to the research on the dating of the houses and their original condition by revealing regional topography and local architectural characteristics.

Central Lycia, where Myra is located, has a rough terrain with Mt Gülmez and Alacadağ in the east, Mt Susuz in the north and Mt Akdağ in the west. Among the most important settlements in this mountainous region are Limyra in the east, Arykanda in the northeast, and Kyaneai in the west. In addition, there are numerous small settlements dispersed across the region. High hill and deep valleys behind Myra provided protection. Piracy, invasions, epidemics and natural catastrophes, which swept the coastal areas, did not penetrate much into the interior.

The social and cultural lives of settlements on the coast and in the mountains were different from each other. While the rural settlements were the centres of agricultural production, the coastal settlements and large cities acted as the exchange of the produce. The primary sources feeding the coastal area were distributing the produce from the mountains and valleys. In the countryside homogenous groups of families lived in houses usually built on top of protected hilltops and cultivated the terraced land bu growing grapes, olives and grains as well as animal husbandry and forestry.

The size of the mountain settlements of Myra was proportionate with the size of their cultivable land. Instead of large settlements, numerous small rural settlements, such as villages, farmsteads or monasteries situated close to each other, were dispersed across the region. Their location was related to areas suitable for cultivation. All the dwellings in such settlements in the countryside of Myra were built on the valley slopes or on rocks near the fields. Mostly their back walls fronted hillsides hewn from the rock. Although apartments of insulae or complexes with peristyle courtyards are found in the city centres, in the countryside simple hybrid structures with a single room are found.

Due to a lack of research on house architecture in the region, commentaries for typology are very limited. Based on the study on neighbouring Avşar Tepesi by A. Thomsen, it is possible to categorise on an interim basis the houses in Myra’s countryside into three types: 1) houses with a row of rooms, 2) single–room houses and 3) houses of 2-4 rooms arranged around a rectangular courtyard. Settlements surrounded with an encircling wall, thus within a limited space, contain houses with a row of rooms along the terraces on the hillsides. Each rectangular room of 5-6 m., suitable for a family, has a separate entrance. Single-room houses are the most common type in the region. Such houses of 5-6 m. are usually found individually on the hillsides near small agricultural areas. The last group of houses with 2-4 rooms around a courtyard are found singly near agricultural areas. Entrance is through a antechamber that leads to the other rooms. All of these houses were two-storeyed; but as the upper floors have not survived intact, it is not clear whether they had multiple-roomed layout upstairs or not.

Walls of the houses are usually about 0.70 m. thick of dry masonry built with local limestone. Access to the upper and ground floors of the houses was provided through doorways opening in different directions. Due to the slope of the terrain, the upper floor was accessed via a doorway at upper level while the ground floor was accessed at a lower level. Thus there was no need for building stairways to access the small rooms inside the upper floor. In cases where hillside slope was not available for such access, timber or masonry stairs were built adjoining the outside of the building.

The floor separations inside were built with timber. Timber beams were perhaps placed at intervals with planking on top. It is observed that the ground floors were used mostly or animals and storage, while the living space was upstairs. It is believed that many windows overlooked the scenery on the upper floors of these Early Byzantine houses. Not many niches for hearths have been found, thus suggesting that cooking was done in open-air hearths. This premise is further supported by parallel examples from later periods. The superstructure was most probably built with timber beams, then a layer of bushes and weeds topped with a thick layer of waterproof clay was added.

Because of the viticultural production in the area, most of the houses have their own wine press nearby. Due to limited water sources in the mountainous areas of Myra, water was collected in rock-cut cisterns. Most of the houses in the region have their own cisterns.

Continuous settlement of the houses starting from antiquity through the end of the Byzantine period renders it difficult to date the buildings. Houses of earlier periods stayed in use with repairs, while the new ones were built following the same layout and characteristics.

Historic and archaeological evidence at hand suggests that the rural population of Myra reached its peak in the sixth century A.D. Most of the Byzantine houses should also date to this period. The population started to fall particularly after the plague of A.D. 542, which eliminated the need to build new houses. Evidence from archaeological excavations, architecture and historical sources in the region shows that the Byzantine presence ended in the twelfth century at the latest.

The present work has presented an overall evaluation of architectural characteristics of the houses and rural settlements in the mountainous area north of Myra. However, available data is limited especially for unexcavated sites and mostly comes from surface finds. Nevertheless, this is sufficient for outlining the peculiar local characteristics of the architecture of rural houses in the region. Future excavations and surveys will cast more light on the issue and hopefully reveal more details.

Dr. Bülent İşler,
Gazi Üniversitesi, Edebiyat Fakültesi, Sanat Tarihi Bölümü,
Beşevler-Ankara
E-posta: mugla48tr@gmail.com

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