We made a daytrip to Hekate sanctuary at Lagina from Bodrum a couple of months ago. It was a grey winter’s day right before Christmas and the cold wind and occasional drizzle of rain made me hesitate to get out of the car. However, once out, walking around the extensive grounds of this mysterious site was a rewarding experience. The sanctuary of Hekate is located in Turgut neighbourhood of Mugla province, not far inland from the South Aegean city of Bodrum in Western Turkey. It is closely connected to the ancient Carian city of Stratonikeia, which has been inhabited continuously since the Late Bronze Age (1500 BC).
We started walking towards the sanctuary, passing a large olive tree, known to be more than two thousand years old, the oldest in the area. The sanctuary was encircled by a wall and consisted of the portals, the main temple, strolling areas with roofs, the altar, small temples, a memorial obelisk and living quarters for the priests and at least one fountain. The first excavations were carried out in 1891 and 1892 by Osman Hamdi Bey who took all of his findings to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The excavation works are continuing to this day.
So why is this sanctuary so interesting? Hekate, the goddess to whom it is dedicated, is not a goddess related to the well-known Olympian deities. Hekate is thought to be an Anatolian Goddess, who rules over the moon, night and darkness. She keeps hold of spells and magic and is the queen of dark powers. She is the patron of crossroads and doorways and the restless dead, a mediator between heaven and earth, a nurse of the young. In her hands are a torch, a dagger, a whip, a serpent and a key. Her sacred animals are a mare, a she-wolf and a she-dog. In some regions she is depicted being a triple-bodied goddess, but in Lagina, she has only been depicted as a single-bodied deity. Homer did not mention her, but Hesiod mentions her frequently in his Theogony. According to Hesiod, Hekate was the daughter of the nymph Asteria and the Titan Perses and she was venerated by Zeus, who made her an authority over the lands, seas and skies. She also assisted Demeter in her search for Persephone in the Underworld.
According to findings, there was religious activity at the Hekate sanctuary already in the fourth century BC in Lagina. The site has remained in use through the Byzantine period. Hekate sanctuary at Lagina was the main sanctuary dedicated to Hekate. Every year smaller festivities and every four years major festivals were held here to honour Hekate. She was the patron of Stratonikeia and honoured as its protector. Coins were minted with her image. The best-known rite from the festivals was the “Key Carrying ” (Kleidagogia). This involved a procession, including the choir of young girls, walking along the sacred paved road from Lagina to Stratonikeia 10 kilometres away, carrying a special key, which perhaps opened a special door or a gate in Stratonikeia and then returning back to Lagina, opening a gate and with that, festivities, there. Another known festival at Lagina celebrated loyalty to Rome, which made Hekate play the role of the political goddess in the area. There are inscriptions that note the Roman state’s sponsorship of various constructions of the sanctuary.
The first construction on our walk towards the site was the main gate, the Propylon, the entranceway to the sanctuary. It is a semi-circular structure with columns of Ionic order where priests performed their ceremonies. There are two more entranceways to the sanctuary. After passing the Propylon, we reached the Temple of Hekate. It has a central situation and has five steps going up. On top of the steps there are interesting carvings of two pairs of human footprints with an arrow-like line going through one of the pairs. The columns surrounding the temple are both of Ionic as well as Corinthian order. The friezes over the columns and walls depict four themes: the birth and life of Zeus, peace and friendship between the Amazons and the Greeks, a battle between the Gods and giants and the fourth frieze depicts the gathering of various gods. There was a small temple here already in the first century BC. The current temple existed here in 81 BC according to the inscription on the temple walls. Scattered around the area are the pieces of beautiful cassette ceilings of the temple, depicting various objects such as a double-axe – a symbol of Zeus, animals, such as turtles and birds, human portraits, plants, such as sweetcorn, flowers, pine cones, geometric shapes, etc. Part of the sacred pathway and the second gate are located behind the temple. The site is quite large and the excavations are still ongoing.
Hekate is a goddess who brought people together as a community in Lagina. They gathered in her honour every year and had festivities with singing, dancing, eating good food, playing and listening to music. Hekate and Zeus, who was another patron of Stratonikeia, formed powerful mystic allies in people’s minds and hearts, helping them to feel safe and in comfort. And in fact, even today the people bring offerings to Hekate in Lagina, as I saw some pomegranates, garlic, pine cones and apples offered to her on the altar.