The origins of the Carians, the people who at least partially displaced the Ionians around İzmir and who occupied the southwestern corner of Anatolia, are not terribly clear. The fifth-century B.C. historian Herodotus, himself a Carian on his father’s side, seems to think they were indigenous Anatolian people, while others associate them with seafaring people, possibly Minoans from Crete, who had settled many of the Aegean islands, including Rhodes. To further muddy the water, the Carians are sometimes assumed to be the same as the even more mysterious Leleges, who are also closely associated with the part of the Turkish coast around Bodrum.

Their origins may be murky but that doesn’t mean there was anything inferior about Carian culture. It was the Persian satrap of Caria, King Mausolus (r. 377-353 B.C.), who bequeathed the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, once one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, to history and the English vocabulary. The Carians also buried their nobility in rock-cut splendour, choosing for their tombs lofty, inaccessible locations, which means that more physical reminders survive of them than of the Lydians or Ionians.

Like the Phrygians, Urartians and Lydians, the Carians had their own language, although it is yet to be translated. According to archaeologist George Bean, they mainly lived in villages in the interior of the area bordered by the Meander River (Büyük Menderes) to the north and Lake Köyceğiz to the south. Like the Ionians, who had defeated them in the Melian war and driven them out of Miletus and Priene, the Carians seem to have formed a defensive federation against the Persians. Little is known about it except that its most important temple was in Mylasa (Milas) and that members gathered for discussions at a yet-to-be identified place called “White Pillars.

Initially the Carians resisted the Persians with more success than the Ionians, and so joined the Delian Confederacy, led by the Athenians. But, eventually, they too were defeated and Caria became a satrapy of Persia. Later, it became a pawn in the disputes between the successors of Alexander the Great. Eventually, it was swallowed up by the rulers of Pergamum (Bergama), who bequeathed it to Rome in 133 B.C.

Until recently, the Carians were less well known than their neighbours to the east of Lake Köyceğiz, the Lycians. This may be about to change if the newly launched 800km Kariayolu (Carian Way, www.kariayolu.org) becomes anything like as successful a walking route as the Lycian Way.

As when visiting the “Ionian” sites, it’s important to remember that many ruins on the sites of Carian cities actually belong to the Roman period. King Mausolus was in any case a great fan of Greek culture and designed his new towns accordingly. In addition to the sites mentioned below, keen Carian hunters should also head inland to visit the ruins of Alabanda, Alinda and Gerga near Çine.

Read more about the Carian sites: http://news-306568-exploring-caria-the-coast-around-bodrum.html

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