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The Evocative Ruins of Ancient Lycia: Part 1: Aperlae

The sunken city of Kekova is perhaps the most famous of the ancient 1000-year (and older) Lycian ruins in the Kas region. They are a commonly regarded as a must-see on most cruising and sailing itineraries and indeed, they make for a great excursion. However, what few people know is that the ruins of Aperlae in Asar Bay, a few hours’ sail from Kas, are as fascinating and have an equally rich history.

If weather conditions and lack of crowds permit, it is a very worthwhile stop over on a west bound cruise with us. It is also a particularly enticing offer for history and culture buffs, as Aperlae is currently accessible only by boat. (There is no land access.) Even for sailors, the site is fairly inaccessible except during certain hours of the day, when the tide permits our entry and exit into narrow Asar Bay where the ruins are located. Aperlae is usually far less crowded during the busy summer season than other nearby attractions and swimming spots because of these factors. Its tranquillity and beauty will appeal to one and all.

Perhaps the biggest draw card of this ancient site is that, unlike Kekova which is strictly protected, one has the privilege of being allowed to swim and snorkel around the submerged ruins – a once in a lifetime opportunity for you to get up close and personal with centuries old ruins from a bygone era.

Aperlae has a truly fascinating history. Most likely established around the 4th Century BC/BCE, as minted coins from that era suggest, the city was built due to the plenitude of a certain shellfish in its coastal waters.

This mollusc is the Murex Trunculus or “Banded Murex” from which the ancient Cretans and Phoenicians were the first to extract a highly prized purple dye used to colour the clothes worn by emperors, rulers and noblemen of the time. The dye, known as “Tyrean Purple” (after the city in Phoenicia) was so expensive and hard to manufacture (it took 12,000 shellfish to produce a mere 1.4 grams or 0.05 fluid ounces) that it was worth 20 times the value of gold! This made it one of the most expensive products of the ancient world.

It was two archaeologists called Robert and Cynthia Carter (a husband and wife team) who in the early 1970s identified the secret to Aperlae’s wealth when they noticed the large middens (piles) of crushed murex shells located to the west of the main town site, and made the connection!

This industry was worth enough revenue to keep Aperlae going for 1300 years, until around 700 AD/ACE. This is when the city began to decline. It eventually fell into ruin due to the influx of pirates and Arab raiders into the region.

As with most ancient Lycian sites, you can expect a mix of ruins, spanning from the Hellenistic (pre-Christian) era to Byzantine times.

When we visit, our crew will point out the ancient sarcophagi of Lycia’s once proud rulers, now partially submerged under water, as well as the storage tanks used to keep the shellfish alive before processing. You may also see the remains of an old church, an ancient hammam (that is thought to have used seawater, as fresh water was in short supply on the arid coast) and rain cisterns (tanks) used to store fresh water for drinking purposes. Gaze at the ancient city walls up on the hill and imagine the pride that was once a thriving commercial centre, or simply frolic in the turquoise waters chasing schools of fish as they dart between ancient stones.