When Lynne and I lived in Selcuk, we visited at least twenty archeological sites within a two-hour drive from home. We would go with two good friends, both of whom were deeply interested in Greek and Roman archeology, one of whom, a classics professor at Koç University, had a wealth of knowledge to build on. Before setting out, we would read about each site in the comprehensive guide book Turkey beyond the Meander by George Ewart Bean. Of all the sites we visited, Gerga was the most intriguing, because no one seemed to know anything about it, including where exactly we would find it. To confound matters, the route described by earlier visitors began at a lake and followed a river valley uphill for an hour or more; however, when we made the journey, the river had recently been dammed, and the river valley had become a valley of mud. Instead of approaching from the south, we drove to a northerly village and tried approaching the site from there. A villager we asked for directions was encouraging. Yes, he said, pointing, it’s that way (orada).

Half-a-kilometer further on, we came to the brow of a hill from which we could see the lake and the river far below. Gerga had to be somewhere in between. We parked where a trail led downwards through fields bordered more by stunted trees and rocks than by fences. It was a beautiful sunny day, not hot in this mountainous region. We stopped along the way to admire and take pictures of wild irises, puffball mushrooms, struggling sweet pea vines, acres of lavender, and a marvelous green plant with a bulb-like fruit at the center of its flower. If you touched it, it squirted you with a powerful jet of water.

Where the trail was worn down to bare earth, we found dung beetles hard at work. They make a ball out of bits of cow dung and push it around to make it bigger—much the way children in colder climates make the body and head of a snowman—and then they roll the dung ball home to their nests, where it serves as food for the family.  It was fascinating to watch them pushing their dung balls along the trail, laboriously, oblivious to our presence.

We walked for forty minutes, hoping we were going in the right direction, and then we saw the temple. It was no bigger than shepherd’s hut. We also saw an aged woman, a bundle of skin and bones held together by a tightly wound shawl, who moved herself well out of our way and declined to return our greetings. As we rounded the little temple from the rear, four cows, one at a time came galumphing out of its shady interior into the sun. I don’t know how they fitted themselves into the tiny building. The old woman, with incomprehensible wheezes and a handy switch, rounded them up and led them away. 

The temple was made of heavy stones placed one on top of another to form the walls and the roof. Although skillfully built, with no mortar to hold it together, we   got the impression that sometime not so long ago it had been reconstructed from stones that had fallen and  weathered where they lay. On the other hand, it may have stood, as is, for centuries. Nothing is known about Gerga, other than what you see, and what we saw inside the temple was both surprising and mysterious. The roof was built upon rafters that look like wood but are, in fact, stone. Who built the temple? Where had they seen wooden rafters, the like of which belong to a different architectural tradition.

A single monolith forms the pediment, on which is carved the word ‘GERGAS’ in Greek. It is one of many such inscriptions. ‘GERGA’ and ‘GERGAS’ in Latin or Greek appear at least twenty times throughout the site, carved into buildings, towering obelisks, and colossal, but fallen, statues that might have marked places of worship. In front of the temple is a huge rectangular trough chiseled out of stone, with a drainage channel that might have caught the blood of sacrificed animals or, just as likely, been used as a platform for crushing grapes. Who or what was Gerga? The name of a village or the name of a god?

The site is in the province of Caria, and the people were Carian. Its construction from roughly fashioned stone suggests an ancient BCE origin, but Bean claims a more modern CE origin, sometime during the Roman Empire. One archeologist, A. Laumonier, cited by Bean, claims that the various buildings found throughout the site were temples and tombs. Bean disagrees. He thinks they were fountain houses and the site was a product of water worship.


Bean concludes: “On the various problems provided by the site, every visitor will form his own opinion, but of one thing there can be no doubt; no one who makes the effort to visit Gerga will feel that he has wasted his time.”