Gümüşlük is one of the very few protected anchorages on the Aegean coast between Bodrum and Kuşadası and for centuries sailors have breathed a sigh of relief as they sailed through the narrow harbour entrance and escaped the vicious meltemi winds. I first visited Gümüşlük in 1981 on Sinbad Severn, a 76 foot ketch. Minutes after dropping anchor we received a visit from the local gendarmerie, who rowed over to inspect our passports and transit log and in theory, check that we didn't have any contraband or relics aboard. They stomped over the teak deck in their metal tipped and healed boots and no one felt comfortable asking them to observe the no-shoes policy. (Thank goodness, imagine 4 young guys removing heavy boots they'd been wearing daily in the August heat). After a lot of stamping (paper-work not boots) we'd wave goodbye and we'd be one bottle of JohnnyWalker and jar of Nescafe lighter. As the yacht's cook, I loved Gümüşlük because the guests always ate on shore and as a recent archaeology graduate I had the chance to get out my copy of George Bean's "Beyond the Meander" and visit the ruins of ancient Myndos. Despite being written over 40 years ago, George Bean's guides are still the best companions to take while traveling along coastal Turkey. In Gümüşlük in the early eighties, there was still the outline of the ancient theatre, although the stones had been put to more practical uses. The mosaics were visible on the isthmus and if you kept your eyes peeled, Roman and later coins would be kicked up under foot. The massive walls encircling the 750 hectares of city could be followed almost all the way round.
I'd also wade across to Rabbit Island, where there was not a lot to see except a colony of rabbits introduced by a local restaurateur as a tourist attraction. A few massive blocks showed that there was some archaeology on the island, and the city wall; mistakenly referred to as "the King's Way" by the locals could easily be seen less than a meter under the sea. It seemed unlikely that I'd ever know what was under the rough vegetation and rabbit droppings as, at the time, there appeared to be a lack of interest in the remains and much of the decorative marble and mosaic was being snaffled away on such a scale, that I could notice the difference from one year to the next.
Zoom forward over 3 decades and this rather long-winded introduction leads me to last Thursday, when the excavations that have been going on since 2008 on Rabbit (no more) Island were opened to the public and we had the chance to wade through the sea to visit the site and listen to Pro. Dr Mustafa Şahin from Uludağ University talk us through his 4 years of excavations.
Climbing up through the uncovered streets, past a speculative entrance gate, we were met at the summit by a beaming Prof. standing by jewel in the crown of his excavation. A church dating from the 4th century AD, the central of its three nave floors being almost completely intact, decorated with a geometric mosaic. Below the floor they have uncovered a crypt with 11 graves containing 194 skeletons and evidence that bodies were placed on planks to decompose before the skeleton was added to the grave. The excavations on the island are expected to continue until 2018, by which time the most interesting structures will be reinstated and the island re-opened to the public.