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MİLAS

The ancient Mylasa                      Population: 133,000

milasuluUlu Cami

Market day: Tuesday

Old name: Mylasa

Milas, in southwest Turkey just inland form Bodrum, is a fascinating little town.

Unfortunately like Bergama it is not well served by modern development that has dumped a long canyon of modern high-rises all the way down from the main road. Most visitors would take one look and quickly conclude that there was nothing to see here. This is a great shame because those persevere eventually stumble upon a thoroughly delightful town centre full of ancient ruins and lovely old houses and mosques. 

Backstory

Milas has a long and venerable history, first as Mylasa, the original capital of the Carian kings before they relocated to Halikarnas (Bodrum), then as a Roman settlement, then later as an important city of the Menteşe Beylik which bestowed several fine mosques on the town before the Ottomans took over. 

MilaschimTypical Milas chimneyAround town

Milas' most famous monument is a late 2nd-century Roman tomb called the Gümüşkesen, a particularly unlikely name which means “silver-cutting” (or “silver purse” in some translations). A marble tomb with elaborate columns and a pyramidal roof, it was probably modelled on the much more famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in nearby Bodrum.

gumuskesenMausolus, who gave his name to that particular ex-Wonder of the World, came from a family that originally hailed from Milas. It’s easy, therefore, to imagine a local noble wanting to commemorate the town’s most famous son by making a mini version of the tomb for the ancestral bolthole. Given that the original Mausoleum has virtually vanished, the Gümüşkesen does a great job of hinting at its lost splendour.

Whoever was buried inside the Gümüşkesen, their remains have long since vanished. Today the monument sits in a pretty small park where old people pass the day beneath an arbour. 

Just up the road from the Gümüşkesen a sign points to the old Jewish Cemetery where many gravestones still survive intact.

It would be easy to leave town believing that that was the sum of what Milas had to offer, but in fact there are a few more reminders of the ancient town of Mylasa tucked away in the back streets. Unfortunately they are nowhere near the Gümüşkesen which is not particularly easy to find - if you stand in the market place you can just about see it, then try to make a beeline through the narrow streets towards it.

The most important other monument to see in Milas is the site of a Temple of Zeus believed to date back to the 1st century BC. Rather like the Temple of Artemis in Selçuk, this temple has managed to hang on to only one of its original columns, on top of which can be seen an unruly stork’s nest, reused year after year. In 2013 extensive excavations were going on all round the temple aimed at creating an archaeological park here. Already it's easy to make out what seems to be the agora with marble flagstoned flooring.

 

Beneath the temple the hugely important remains of the tomb of King Hecatomnos including his sarcophagus have been discovered leading to reconsideration of whether the "temple" is actually a temple at all. As yet, the tomb is not open to the public although already it is listed on UNESCO's list of potential world heritage sites. 

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A short walk away from the remains of the temple stands a more conspicuous reminder of Mylasa: the Baltalı Kapı (Axe Gate) which straddles a modern road. The gate took its name from an axe carved over the keystone and visible even today. As late as the 18th century it would still have been part of the city walls but nowadays it stands alone, opening on to s atreet of battered old houses. Further remains, fenced off and unlabelled, can be seen in a field beside the newly created minibus terminal.

 

milas2For reasons now lost in the mists of time, Milas seems to have gone into a decline at the end of the Roman period; there are hardly any traces of the Byzantines here.

 

But then in the 14th century things perked up again when the Menteşe emirate (the local successor state to the Selçuk Sultanate) set up its capital at nearby Becin.  As a result Milas boasts several fine mosques and other buildings dating from that period. The finest is the Fıruz Bey (Kurşunlu) Cami (1394), a spectacular mosque with fantastic carving around its door, windows and portico that comes paired with a long medrese that was restored in 2007. Internally it is remininiscent of the early Ottoman mosques in Bursa with steps up to the praying area and two side chambers.milas4

 

In contrast the Ulu Cami is a solid brick shed of a building dating back to 1378; instead of a minaret it has a tiny turret accessed via steps running up the side of the building, a unique feature to the best of my knowledge. It is also held in place with two huge buttresses that loom over an alleyway popular with men on motorcycles. Inside the mosque stand a row of columns clearly filched from the ruins of Mylasa.

Nor does it take much looking at the outside walls to realise where the building materials must have come from – the Menteşe are revealed as early adviocates of recycling who made excellent use of the remains of Mylasa to decorate their own buildings. You’ll find the same thing at the Belen (1750), Abdülaziz Ağa (1737) and Salaheddin Camis (1330) – old pieces of marble column and presumably meaningless old Greek inscriptions put to new and decorative use in the walls of Menteşe mosques.

MilashanThe Cöllühanı before restorationOnce the Ottomans took over Milas appears to have moved up in the world quite literally, because many of the lovely old houses with their decorative chimneystacks that still survive are on the hillside. Here, too, stand the battered remains of a particularly elegant 18th-century han, the Çöllühanı, built of wood and stone.

 

Until recently you could still meet one of the town’s last saddle-makers as well as a man who sells lovely small rugs made out of felt here but the mania for renovation had finally caught up with the han which is now altogether smarter although still very lovely. It's right beside the Belen Cami.

The Ottoman Milasians grew rich on the proceeds of trading tobacco and cotton, a trade that was largely controlled by the Greeks, Armenians and Jews whose magnificent houses stand in varying states of repair around the han. Many are pastel-colored with red-tiled roofs and Greek-style motifs adorning them. Remains of the synagogue stand behind a locked metal gate although a Hebrew inscription above it gives the game away. 

Milashouse

Perhaps their most striking feature is their soaring brick chimneys with jaunty brick-patterned caps, a feature they share with nearby Muğla and the village of Çomakdağ. At one time some of the houses stood on the banks of a river which was crossed by a fine triple-arched Ottoman bridge. This still survives today, although the river is long gone.

milas5Uphill from the Ulu Cami the Hacı Ali Ağa Konağı has been restored to house a small museum dedicated to the Milas-born cartoonist Turhan Selçuk (1922-2010). Some of his drawings are reproduced on the walls of a small park in his name near the Baltacı Kapı.

Across the road from the Ulu Cami is the Milas Museum, a fairly indifferent offering containing some finds from Herakleia ad Latmos, Iasos and Stratonikeia, as well as a few fine figurines dug up when a new school was being built near the Gümüşkesen. One of the most striking exhibits is the reconstruction of the interior of a tomb found at Çakıralan on the way to Ören during coal mining; it comes complete with a table and a pair of stone couches for visitors to dine there in memory of the dead whose ashes lay in caskets beneath them. Look out also for some Jewish gravestones in the grounds (the Jews left in the 1950s; the Greeks had already gone in the 1920s).milas6

 

Milas’ bazaar is not as atmospheric as Muğla’s but if you poke about in the back streets you may come across another old han which at one time served as the Otel Sefa. In May 2015 all the streets had been dug up for repaving in an effort to make it all a lot smarter.

 

Milas offers many small pleasures, not least the fascination of finding bits of old Mylasa cropping up in virtually every old building. If you're staying at the Sürücü or visiting the Tansaş supermarket you might also like to inspect a string of very European-looking houses that turn out to have been designed by a Hungarian achitect in the 1920s. Nearby is the "House of Madame Murad", romantically built in 1927 by a local notable Murad Salih Menteşe for his French wife, Marie Suzanne Dugenie; note their initials M and S in the ironwork of the gate.

 

At one time Milas boasted a flourishing olive-oil industry and as you walk west along İnönü Caddesi you will still see the old brick towers as in Ayvalık on the Northern Aegean.

 

Sleeping

Few tourists choose to stay in Milas when Bodrum is so near so most of the hotels cater for a business clientele. Expect a boutique hotel to open in one of the old Greek houses when all the restoration around the Temple of Zeus is complete.

Sürücü Otel

Eldehan Otel. Tel: 0252-5

Milashan Otel. Tel: 0252-513 7901

Transport info

Most bus services to Bodrum from northern Turkey pass the Milas bus terminal and there are regular dolmuşes, marked Şehir İçi, into the town centre.

There are also local dolmuş services from Bodrum, Yatağan and Muğla.

The otogar is in a terrible location out on the main road well away from the actual town. A new minibus terminal (köy garaj) for services to Ören, Güllük, Selimiye (for Euromos) and Kıyıkıslacık (for Iasos) is at the end of the street running diagonally behind the museum. Most of these services also pass a more central bus stop on the main road behind the Belediye Parkı if you don't mind risking there being no seat. The Yatağan and Muğla minibuses leave from just outside the minibus terminal.

Day trip destinations

Becin

Bodrum

Çomakdağ

Euromos

Güllük

Iasos

Labranda

Muğla

Ören (Keramos)

Stratonikeia

Yatağan

Read more about Milas: http://www.zamanusa.com/us-tr/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=7075

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