Imperial Phaselis

Phaselis 3

Aqueduct of Phaselis

I paid a brief visit to Phaselis during a tour along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey a few years back, from Alanya to Kalkan, where an old Turkish friend from London is now running an English pub called ‘The Swan’. I think BTW that the novelty has started to wear off because his family is back here in London now for the subsidised education and his wife seems to think that she’s entitled to a council flat. She thought things were still as they were during the freewheeling New Labour days when money was being splashed around like water. I don’t think that the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ toffs and millionaires now running the country are at all in touch with those they purport to represent, but Labour were clearly running fast and loose with the public purse and of course let the bloody bankers loose as well. Thanks, Gordon you gormless, useless git.

Phaselis harbour

Phaselis harbour

Anyway, stepping back a few paces from this deplorable century, Phaselis is a small time warp on the pleasant shores of the Med and is one of the most romantic and peaceful spots on the planet. It has the ruins of an agora, baths, main marble-paved street and all the paraphernalia of a small, self-contained Greek city, one of many strewn across this whole region. The Emperor Hadrian paid a visit to Phaselis in AD 130, and I can just see his imperial deccareme arriving at the harbour, like the description of Augustus’s arrival at Brundisium in Broch’s ‘Death of Virgil’:

Steel-blue and light, ruffled by a soft, scarcely perceptible cross-wind, the waves of the Adriatic streamed against the imperial squadron as it steered toward the harbour of Brundisium…

Of the seven high-built vessels that followed one another, keels in line, only the first and last, both slender rams-prowed pentaremes, belonged to the war-fleet; the remaining five, heavier and more imposing, deccareme and duodeccareme, were of an ornate structure in keeping with the Augustan imperial rank, and the middle one, the most sumptuous, its bronze-mounted bow gilded, gilded the ring-bearing lion’s head under the railing, the rigging wound with colours, bore under purple sails, festive and grand, the tent of the Caesar. Yet on the ship that immediately followed was the poet of the Aeneid and death’s signet was graved upon his brow.

Maybe something like this

Maybe something like this

I flatter myself that I’m a bit like Leonard Woolley, excavator of Ur and discoverer of the Sumerian civilisation of ancient Iraq, in that I’m not tied like a tethered goat to the present but float easily free from my moorings at the slightest prompting. As Agatha Christie, married to Woolley’s one-time assistant Max Mallowan, wrote in her autobiography, ‘Leonard Woolley saw with the eye of imagination: the place was as real to him as it had been in 1500BC, or a few thousand years earlier. Wherever he happened to be, he could make it come alive. It was his reconstruction of the past and he believed in it.’



This is a very useful knack in places like Turkey, and I remembering once strolling down the main street of Side, another ruined city farther east along the same coastline, completely wrapped up in a dream of young women in togas laughing and playing with the water that once ran along the central canal. Or maybe it was just my hormones…


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