A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Off the Grid
Perched on the Mutluca Plateau in southwestern Turkey’s Muğla Province, the medieval walled city of Beçin was built on the ruins of a site whose history began thousands of years before. Based on the discovery of walls beneath the fortified inner citadel, archaeologists believe that a permanent settlement existed there by at least the fourth century B.C., during the Classical period, when the site was part of the Greek-controlled region of Caria. The settlement was continuously occupied throughout the subsequent Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods. In the 1260s, a Muslim emir named Menteşe, who had founded an eponymous principality, conquered Caria. Beçin likely fell to the principality during the reign of Menteşe’s son and successor, Mesud Bey, who solidified control of the southwestern Anatolian coast. After Mesud’s death in 1319, his son, Orhan Bey, made Beçin the capital of the principality. The city flourished over the next century, as rulers of Menteşe built mosques, baths, and fountains with opulently carved facades and established Islamic schools called madrassas. At its height, Beçin was home to between 8,000 and 10,000 people, many of whom lived in courtyard houses along meticulously planned streets.
By 1426, the principality of Menteşe was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The neighboring city of Milas became the region’s political center, and Beçin’s importance waned. “Since it was gradually abandoned over time, Beçin stands out as one of the rare Turkish cities in Anatolia whose citadel and walled settlement have been preserved in their original form to the present day,” says archaeologist Kadir Pektaş of Istanbul Medeniyet University. “Beçin represents a transition between the principality and the Ottoman period, where interesting syntheses in architecture and urbanism developed.”
Although archaeologists have investigated Beçin since the 1970s, excavations have only recently begun in and around the walls of the inner citadel. Pektaş leads a team that is restoring many of the extant structures and unearthing traces of the city’s history dating back to its earliest inhabitants. Among these finds are the head of a more than 5,000-year-old idol of a type popularly known as a stargazer, a fifth- or fourth-century B.C. mausoleum and well filled with figurines and pottery, and a gold coin minted by the Persian ruler Darius I (reigned 522–486 B.C.).
Visitors can follow signs to take a self-guided tour of Beçin’s residential quarter and public buildings. Among the notable ruins are the Büyük Hamam, the city’s largest marble-floored bathhouse; Kızıl Han, a two-story caravansary; and the recently restored Yelli Mosque and Bey Pool. A monumental gateway leads visitors into the Ahmed Gazi Madrasa, which was built in 1375. Exhibits inside chart the architectural development of madrassas as well as the daily activities and lessons that took place within the schools. The structure also houses the Stone Works Museum, a collection of Menteşe- and Ottoman-period tombstones unearthed at Beçin and Milas.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Milas, just three miles to the north, is famed for its vibrantly colored handwoven wool carpets. Visitors should be sure to sample local culinary delicacies such as sour meatballs and a savory quiche-like dish called çaykama. In the city center is the Tomb of Hecatomnus, the fourth-century B.C. ruler of Caria and father of Mausolus, who was entombed in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Pektaş recommends touring other ancient Greek and Persian cities within a short driving distance, including Iasus, Euromus, Labraunda, and Latmus-Heracleia. About an hour’s drive southwest of Milas is the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which displays artifacts recovered from the Aegean’s most famous ancient shipwrecks.
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