A Jewel In The Western Taurus: Gölhisar

Article: Annette Hanisch Photo: Ömer Doğan Date: October 2013

BURDUR/GÖLHISAR? WHERE’S THAT? THE ANCIENT CITY OF KIBYRA? NEVER HEARD OF IT. IF THAT’S YOUR RESPONSE AS WELL, THEN IT’S TIME TO GET TO KNOW GÖLHISAR AND PUT KIBYRA ON YOUR CALENDAR!

A Jewel In The Western Taurus: Gölhisar
A Jewel In The Western Taurus: Gölhisar

We turn west off the Denizli-Antalya road and 25 kilometers later reach the town of Gölhisar at the southwestern tip of Burdur province. The Western Taurus Mountains encircle Gölhisar, which lies on the edge of a plain some 1,000 meters in elevation. These mountains are the source of the Dalaman river’s raging waters. If it’s called Gölhisar (Lake Castle), shouldn’t there be a lake? There is, of course, but don’t expect anything much. Covered in reeds, Lake Gölhisar is some ways from the town, a small lake dotted with charming tiny islands smack dab in the middle of a fertile plain. We head up to İbecik, where the deep blue waters of Yapraklı Dam formed by the Dalaman are more conducive to swimming and fishing. Early in the morning we took a look at a fisherman’s net, and what did we see besides lake carp but catfish, the king of freshwater fish!

Villages surround the lake: Yamadı with its tomb of Yaman Dede, the lovely Uylupınar perched on the slope of a hill with a gurgling spring, the emerald green Hisarardı on the lake shore, Kargalı where the woodsmen live. A slew of beautiful villages whose population farm and raise livestock. The ruins of a castle atop a small hill east of the lake give the town its name. Gölhisar itself is a modest Anatolian town. All summer long the main thoroughfare joining the town’s two squares is closed to traffic at evening, and people young and old, married couples, and groups of friends come out for a stroll. To sweeten the fun, some sip the black cumin coffee unique to the region while others prefer a bowl of snow sherbet, another treat peculiar to Gölhisar. After the second or third snowfall in the highlands, where winters are harsh, deep wells are dug and filled with the pristine crystals. Tamped down and covered with pine needles, they stay frozen right up to the end of summer. The sherbet-makers bring their snow for the day down from the highland wells in jute sacks, top it with grape molasses and serve the customer. If you happen to visit Gölhisar on a Saturday, we recommend a snow sherbet stop in a nomadic ‘Yörük’ tent after a jaunt through the bustling and well-stocked local market. Don’t leave here either without trying the ‘yaprak sac kavurma’ (thinly sliced fried lamb), another Gölhisar classic. The trick to this dish is that the lamb is fried for just 35 seconds on a red-hot iron griddle!

Part of the Teke region, Gölhisar has a rich folk culture. You will find here not only folk poets, musicians who play the reed flute and kora lute, and a retired teacher who makes these instruments in his home workshop, but also authentic ‘henna night’ costumes, hand-woven traditional fabrics, a variety of handicrafts and the İbecik girls’ folklore ensemble.

In mid-summer the people of Gölhisar flee to the highlands to escape the sweltering heat. Although the meadows, which are green in spring, turn yellow in summer, water gushes from the scores of springs all year round. Urbanites find an opportunity to experience life in nature in the highlands, which are as yet devoid of any touristic infrastructure, even buildings or electricity. Just 5 kilometers from Gölhisar, Böğrudelik Highland is a popular place for picnicking. Higher up on Armutlu Highland, people seeking to restore their health settle into tents for a few months to grow summer vegetables and savor the refreshing coolness and clean air. A dirt road newly opened to link the highlands climbs as high as 800 meters, affording breathtaking views of the plain below!

Besides all this, the most important reason to my mind for visiting Gölhisar is the ancient city of Kibyra. This ruin in the foothills of Mt. Akdağ two kilometers west of the city center is, in a word, extraordinary! Magnificent and extremely well-preserved structures were brought to light in a short time in this ancient city of around 100,000 in the time of the Roman Empire where no excavations had been conducted until a few years ago. Since 2006, archaeologist Şükru Özüdoğru, an associate professor at Burdur Mehmet Akif Ersoy University, and his enthusiastic team of archaeologists have unearthed a colossal stadium, a large agora, a sizable theater and, immediately next to it, to the delight of visitors, an Odeion/Bouleuterion (House of Music/Parliament Building) that can also seat 3,600 people.

The stage of the Odeion stands erect, and the mosaic pavement with geometric designs in front of it is completely intact. The orchestra section of the building is without a counterpart, but unfortunately it is covered with a meter-thick layer of stone chips to prevent damage… Still, just knowing it’s there is exciting. On the floor of the orchestra is a mosaic Medusa’s head of extraordinary beauty made entirely of pieces of red and white marble. The ancient city’s sewerage system, a meter and a half high and wide enough for a person to pass comfortably, arouses further awe. We owe the director of the dig special thanks for allowing us to photograph for Skylife readers the excavation site, which has not yet been published in a scholarly journal. The major findings from Kibyra, mainly the gladiator relief unearthed at the side of the main road leading to the stadium, are on exhibit at Burdur Museum. We hope you have put Gölhisar/Kibyra on your agenda. This phenomenal place is definitely worth a visit.