Very little is known about the ancient Lycians, but they have left behind a rich heritage – incredible and mysterious structures used for burial ceremonies. About 20 large sites of the unorthodox architecture of Lycia have been preserved to this day, including tombs carved directly into the rock.
Lycia was located in the modern-day territory of Antalya, Mugla, and the Burdur Province, on the southern coastline of Turkey. The Lycian civilization is mentioned in the historical records of ancient Egyptians and Hittites.
In the 6th century BC, Lycia became part of the Achaemenid Empire. One of the most interesting features of Lycia is its burial culture, represented by the amazing rock tombs.
There are several types of Lycian tombs, but the most common are the rock-cut ones. The earliest tombs were carved in the 5th century BC in the cities of Myra and Amasia. The Lycian people believed that a mythical winged creature would carry them over into the afterlife, and that is why they built their tombs so high in the rocks.
The tombs of Lycia were often decorated with reliefs. Usually more than one body was laid to rest in a single tomb – most often, members of the same family. However, the rock-cut tombs are not unique – similar structures exist in other parts of the Mediterranean as well, for example, in Petra (Jordan) and Cyrenaica (Libya).
The sarcophagus is another form of the Lycian tombs. Even though in the ancient world this was a very common form of burial, the Lycian sarcophagi are unique because of their immense size. These structures consist of 3 parts – a base, a burial chamber and a pointy roof.
Most of the undamaged sarcophagi can be dated back to the Roman Era – they are far smaller than the earlier ones. The deceased were often buried along with their slaves or servants, whose bodies were placed underneath the main burial chamber. Most of the Lycian sarcophagi were placed under open sky, although there are some that were placed inside tombs.
The rarest form of Lycian tombs appears to be the pillar-like tomb. Such tombs were built only in the western part of Lycia. They were monolith, narrowing towards the top and they were either built on the ground or on a tiered base. The pillar-like structures usually consist of 2 chambers. The body of the deceased would be placed in the top chamber, which was sometimes decorated with reliefs.
Even though Lycians don’t exist anymore, their tombs could tell us a lot about the way they lived. Some rock reliefs illustrate mythological scenes, which give us an idea of the belief system that ancient Lycians possessed. The burial monuments not only give us information about the deceased, but they shed light upon their lives as well.