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The Idea Behind the Jomon Pottery and its Representations

The matter of pottery and its invention was one of numerous subjects dedicated to Southeast and East Asian Archaeology, which I studied during one of my chosen modules at the university. Although for many scholars the subject of pottery does not seem to tell a compelling story, it turned out to give me a highly interesting insight into general research and the question about the time of pottery’s invention, as according to universal knowledge, its appearance is conventionally associated with the Neolithic, which is, in turn, joined with the high-speed revolution in the development of human kind. Nevertheless, such an idea mostly concerns the area of the Middle East. In Far East Asia countries, such as Japan or China, the subject of pottery should be regarded differently.

Development of pottery has been generally linked to the Neolithic period and primarily associated with the Old Europe and Middle East, with its earliest introduction believed to have occurred in west Asia (Ganj Darreh in western Iran) (circa 7300 BC.) (Rudgley 2000:28; Kobayashi 2004:5, Fig.1.2). In such a context, pottery, together with a craft of weaving, polished stone tools, a sedentary lifestyle (permanent settlements), religion, monuments, and domesticated plants or animals, is still used to describe Neolithic cultures around the world, conventionally appearing around 10000-8000 BC. (Solovyeva 2017:157; The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2021). Nevertheless, as it is supported by archaeological finds, an invention of pottery had already taken place much earlier, surely in the Palaeolithic, and further eastwards, more precisely in north-east Asia, including the Amur River basin in Eastern Russia (eastern Siberia), China (Jiangxi, a southeast Chinese province) and Japan (Rudgley 2000:28-29; Kobayashi 2004:5, Fig.1.2; Norman 2004-2021).

Yet before 1960, it was believed that the earliest Japanese pottery came back from around 2500 BC. (Omoto, Takeishi, Nishida, Fukui 2016:534). But when the so-called Jōmon pottery from the site of Natsushima (Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture) was radiocarbon dated back to around 7000 BC., it turned out to be a real watershed in the archaeology of prehistory (Rudgley 2000:28). Other contemporary excavations at Fukui Cave in Nagasaki Prefecture not only revealed shreds of pottery, which were around 3000 years older than those from Natsushima (Serizawa 1976:2; Kobayashi 2004:9), but also proved “a direct continuity from [the microlithic culture of] the late Japanese Palaeolithic, [showing] a strong communality with the mainland […], to the [times of the] pottery-using [Jōmon]” (Kobayashi 2004:9,12,14). Further archaeological finds of undecorated pottery fragments in a charcoal residue at the Odai-Yamamoto Site (Sotogahama Town, Aomori Prefecture), pushed the beginnings of Japanese pottery even earlier in time to around 13000 BC. (Jomon Japan 2017). Still the oldest examples of undecorated, simple pottery vessels of the Jōmon culture are said to have been first produced around the same time, at the site of Shinonouchi in Nagano (Cartwright 2017) and at the sites in southern Kyūshū (Kakoinohara in Kagoshima Prefecture) (Kobayashi 2004:15-17,19). At the time of the mentioned excavations, the fact of the earliest pottery finds in Japan simultaneously questioned a common idea about a cultural predominance of ancient China over Japan in terms of innovations (Rudgley 2000:28-29). And although continuous excavations proved that pottery fragments also appeared in eastern Siberia around the same time as the Japanese evidence of earthenware vessels, and even earlier (c. 18 000 BC.) in southern China, pottery of the Jōmon culture in Japan is treated as an archaeological phenomenon and often referred to as the earliest pottery in the world (Norman 2004-2021; Rudgley 2000:29; Kobayashi 2004:5, Fig.1.2,19; cf. Kenrick 1995), though it should be rather called the earliest pottery tradition due to its continuous development over thousands of years (Lewis 23rd September, 2021).

The Jōmon period, which covers a vast expanse of time of approximately thirteenth thousands years (Palmer 2007:49), can roughly fall within the Neolithic time range in Europe or in the Middle East, and so it is usually described as “Japan’s Neolithic period” (MET 2022; see: Solovyeva 2017:157; Kobayashi 2004:5, Fig.1.2; Bleed 1976:107). Still, it is important to mention that at its earliest stages, it overlaps with European and Middle Eastern Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods (Kobayashi 2004:5, Fig.1.2). Bleed (1976:107) simultaneously claims that describing the entire Jōmon period as Neolithic is actually “unfortunate” and incorrect. Accordingly, if the agricultural revolution constitutes one of the significant aspects recognising the period of Neolithic, the Japanese Neolithic should only refer to the period with the end of the Jōmon culture, between 900 BC. and 300 AD., when the Yayoi culture introduced the agriculture and started to cultivate white rice (Lewis 23rd September, 2021; Kobayashi 2004:133; cf. Barton 2012).

The Jōmon culture is the earliest one that we can identify in Japan. Yet it is little known about it because it was unfamiliar with the writing (Burns 2017). For this reason, the main source of knowledge about it are archaeological finds, such as pottery (Ibid.). Conventional time frames given for the Jōmon culture usually differ, depending on a given source (Cf: Solovyeva 2017:157; Kobayashi 2004:5, Fig.1.2). The chronology shown below is provided by scholars, such as Tatsuo Kobayashi (2004:5, Fig.1.2) and ChungHae Amana Oh (2011:35), and has been established basing on estimated radiocarbon dates from the last decade of the twentieth century (Amana Oh 2011:35). Accordingly, the Jōmon culture spans between 13600 BC. to 900 BC. and is traditionally divided into the subsequent periods: Incipient (13600-9200 BC.), Initial (9200-5300 BC.), Early (5300-3500), Middle (3500-2500), Late (2500-1200 BC.), and Final (1200-900BC.), when the Jōmon style wares and statues were gradually replaced by Yayoi pottery (ChungHae 2011:35, Kobayashi 2004:5, Fig.1.2).

The Jōmon culture came into existence with the end of the Last Glacial Period, and when it was in a gradual process of development, the Global Warming with significant climate change had already begun (Kobayashi 2004:1; Jomon Japan 2017). Consequently, sea levels rose in the contemporary world, causing in the region the inflow of the warm Tsushima Current into the Sea of Japan, and furthermore the growth of abundant forests of beech, chestnut, walnut and acorn in the Japanese archipelago (Kobayashi 2004:19). With time, “the ocean moved further inland, bringing with it [additional wealth] of fish and shellfish” (Jomon Japan 2017). Such favourable climate changes allowed contemporary groups of humans to use and “[manipulate] the resources available to them in the natural environment” (Kobayashi 2004:3). Jōmon groups initially led a nomadic and then a semi-sedentary life (MET 2022; Jomon Japan 2017); at that time, they built their villages composed of “pit dwellings arranged around central open spaces” (MET 2022), mostly along the ocean coast or along rivers and lakes, and obtained their food by gathering and fishing, collecting shellfish and hunting (Jomon Japan 2017). There was no need to move further, as they could dispose a large quantity of natural resources in one place, being usually stored in deep house pits (Kobayashi 2004:21). Kobayashi (2004:21) speculates that Jōmon peoples could have lined their storage pits with clay, as in the case of the West Asian Natufian culture, and so the Jōmon pottery could have originated from Japanese peoples’ observations that protruding fragments of the clay-lining hardened by the heat from nearby ovens (Ibid.:21). Or, there was a case when a piece of clay from the house wall (e.g. Ganji Darehor) or one dropped from the clay lining of a basket (e.g. North American southwest), was accidentally burnt and fire-hardened (Ibid.:21). Consequently, the Jōmon culture could have started processing clay wider to finally use it as a substance for containers (Ibid.:21). Although these are only some of speculations about actual foundations of pottery in Japan (Ibid.:21), they may constitute “a clue to the origins of pottery making in this region” (Ibid.:21). 

Gradual increase in temperatures in Japan resulted in further remarkable inventions (Kobayashi 2004:7), such as “adoption of revolutionary new technologies and tools” (Ibid.:7). Typical of the Jōmon culture was an innovative way of cooking by means of pottery, which allowed them with time to initiate a typically sedentary lifestyle (Jomon Japan 2017). Accordingly, greater settlements were established, together with constant residential centres, sometimes featuring graveyards (e.g. Kakinoshima Site, Hakodate City, Hokkaido), and later also impressive monuments in the form of stone circles (e.g. Oyu Stone Circle, Kazuno City, Akita Prefecture or Kiusu Earthwork Burial Circles, Chitose City, Hokkaido) (Ibid.).

According to the archaeological evidence, It is said that groups of people who produced the earliest pottery mainly inhabited the main Japanese island of Honshu, though the centre of the mature Jōmon culture was more likely established in southern Hokkaido and northern Tohoku (northern end of Honshu) (e.g. Irie Takasago Shell Midden, Toyako, Town, Hokkaido or Futasumori Shell Midden, Shichinohe Town, Aomori Prefecture) (Jomon Japan 2017). Such a hypothesis is also supported by the fact that, despite that Honshu and Hokkaido areas had been divided by the Tsugaru Strait, different Jōmon peoples from these areas produced pottery of comparable shapes and by using analogous designs (Ibid.).

The Jōmon pottery was produced by hand, by employing turntables but without the use of a proper wheel, which had been unknown in Japan till the Yayoi phase of development (Kobayashi 2004:77; MET 2022). “The clay was mixed with a variety of adhesive materials, including mica, lead, fibres, and crushed shells, [and when] completely dry, [the pottery] was fired in an outdoor bonfire at a temperature of no more than about 900°C” (MET 2022). Kobayashi (2004:21) compares the earliest Japanese pottery manufacture to a contemporary process of baking a cake of crushed nuts and water. The Jōmon pottery is characterised by a cord pattern and hence the name of the culture – ‘Jōmon’, which stands for a ‘cord design’ (MET 2022). Apart from pottery vessels, also typical of the Jōmon culture were intriguing “[clay] figurines […] and other ritual [objects], demonstrating a rich spirituality” (Jomon Japan 2017). Most recognisable of all are definitely the so-called Dogu. Some researchers believe such pottery clay figures actually represent divine ancestors of the ancient Japanese (Burns 2017).

Shintō, the traditional native religion of Japan based on Japanese mythology, can be translated as the way of gods, literally kami-no-michi, where kami means gods (Shintō 2022). Hence, Japanese people believe in kami celestial beings who are still to reside in modern Japan (Burns 2017). According to an ancient Japanese tradition, there are millions of Kami; each has its own personal characteristics and can inhabit different entities, such as people and animals, or even objects (Ibid.). They come down to earth from Takama-ga-hara (High Plain of Heaven), and inhabit Jinja, which are in the Japanese Shintō religion places of worship devoted to various kami (Ibid.). Kami, in turn, are usually thought to be represented as the Dogu figurines (Ibid.). Around 15,000 Dogu representations in the form of various human-like creatures have been found throughout Japan (Ibid.). Also, according to alternative researchers, Dogu are surely to represent the mythological Kami that visited the earth in ancient times; they have goggle-like eyes and their bodies are covered with rivets, which may indicate an outfit or a type of an armour.

“While the many excavations of Jōmon sites have added to our knowledge of specific artifacts, they have not helped to resolve certain fundamental questions concerning the people of the protoliterate era, such as their ethnic classification and the [actual origins] of their language [and of phenomenal pottery vessels and clay figurines they unceasingly produced]” (MET 2022).

Edwina Palmer (2007:49) suggests that while discussing Jōmon Japanese culture, one should use plural Jōmon peoples as the term should be understood as various groups of “the population spanning at least thirteen millennia across the whole of the present Japanese archipelago”(Ibid.:49). The author also believes “that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that some [Jōmon groups] spoke an Austronesian language or languages” (Ibid.:49). Such assumptions have resulted from a long-term debate on the origins of the Jōmon culture in Japan (Cf. Palmer 2007). Scholars, like Charles Loring Brace et al. (1990) and Peter Bellwood (1997) supported an ‘Out of Taiwan’ hypothesis, postulating that Jōmon culture might have been established by migrations from Taiwan (Palmer 2007:47-49). Simultaneously, it is claimed that in the Jōmon period, some groups travelled by sea from Sundaland (modern-day Southeast Asia) due to a postglacial flooding and eventually settled down on the islands of present-day Japan (Ibid.:47). Even though these two theories seem contradictory, Palmer (2007:47) assumes that “an ‘Out of Sunda’ scenario of migration to Japan in the [Jōmon] period is not necessarily entirely incompatible with an ‘Out of Taiwan’ theory” (Ibid.:47). And so she concludes that there must have been numerous migrations in Japan during a long-time Jōmon period, according to “[a] common-sense approach […] that humans were never traveling in only one direction at any time […]” (Ibid.:48). Such an approach “may, [at the same time], accommodate many aspects of the various theories proposed” (Ibid.:48). Similarly, it is underlined by Ryan W. Schmidt and Noriko Seguchi (2014:43), who claim that the Jōmon culture was rather like an ethnic mosaic composed of various Palaeolithic peoples migrating to the islands of Japan, and so “in this respect, the biological identity of the Jōmon is heterogeneous, and it may be indicative of diverse peoples who belonged to a common culture, known as the [Jōmon]” (Ibid.:43). That, in turn, agrees with the claim that “the [Jōmon] revolution, [creating pottery], did not arise from [an isolated] microlithic culture in the archipelago, nor was it the result of just a single wave of influence from the continent, but rather a [consequence] of several phases of intervention and interaction” (Kobayashi 2004:14). Consequently, there were hypotheses the pottery could have originated in the continental East Asia, invented independently by different groups of people, and then brought with numerous waves of migrations to contemporary Japan and consequently adopted by its inhabitants (Ibid.:19).

The Jōmon pottery is generally distinguished by its characteristics (Cartwright 2017) “that [clearly identify its makers] and [set] them apart from all other [later] Japanese [or contemporary Asian] cultures” (Bleed 1976:107), including the first cases of pottery in Western Asia (Kobayashi 2004:20). A suggested similarity of the Jōmon pottery to examples found in eastern Siberia, China, the Korean peninsula or Taiwan has been challenged, adding to that the pottery in Japan is generally dated earlier than in most parts of contemporary East Asia (except for China and Siberia), where its invention was possibly a result of analogous technologies (Palmer 2007:48; Kobayashi 2004:19; Rudgley 2000:28-29; Norman 2004-2021). Only later, like in the Early Jōmon period, “[similarities] between pottery produced in Kyūshū and contemporary Korea suggest that regular commerce existed between the Japanese islands and the Korean peninsula, [together with the Mainland Southeast Asia]” (MET 2022). It is also theorised that the earliest pottery may have been invented independently in various locations in East Asia, with eastern Siberia, China and the Japanese archipelago in the lead (Kobayashi 2004:20). Moreover, by studying the origins of pottery in Neolithic Middle East, it can be analogically assumed that the Jōmon pottery could also have had a few different foundations (Chosuke in Kobayashi 2004:20).

On the other side, the question of the earliest pottery finds ascribed to the Jōmon culture between the Incipient and Initial periods appears much more complex in terms of its different but subsequential decorative styles (Bleed 1976:108), such as “linear relief, fingernail impression, and simple cord marking” (Ibid.:108). Such pottery remains were usually unearthed further from the said mature Jōmon centre (Jomon Japan 2017), namely, in the area from southern Tohoku to Kyūshū (Bleed 1976:108), which is the region considered “the forefront of the [Jōmon] revolution” (Kobayashi 2004:17). Additionally, it is evident that such early examples of pottery were made by peoples with divergent tools, technologies and skills (Bleed 1976:109). “In sum, […] all the evidence available indicates that during [the Incipient period in Japan, the Jōmon culture] continued to be [highly] complex […], characterized by regionally diverse and distinctive technologies. This kind of complexity and regional diversity is also apparent during the succeeding cultural horizon, [when throughout] central Honshu, fingernail-impressed pottery was [subsequently] replaced by ceramics finished with simple exterior cord marking” (Ibid.:109). Generally, foremost features of the Jōmon pottery and its technological homogeneity are more widely observed only with its later stages (Cf. Bleed 1976), yet, “the population of Jōmon Japan [remained] by no means [anthropologically] homogeneous” (Palmer 2007:49).

In conclusion, the invention and continuity of the Jōmon pottery mostly resulted from the plentiful environment of the Japanese archipelago, together with its effective adaptation and development by independent groups of contemporary humans (Shinpei in: Kobayashi 2004:19; Bleed 1976:113). Kobayashi (2004:20) compares the invention of Jōmon pottery to the so-called ‘springboard principle’, where a technological knowledge of manufacturing earthenware vessels met the actual human needs for such a product (Cf. Kohler in: Kobayashi 2004:20). Yet, apart from being regarded as a product of a technological development, playing mostly a functional role as a container and a cooking vessel, the early Japanese pottery should be equally seen as the beginning of the Jōmon cultural revolution, and so could be interpreted wider, by means of social, economic, religious and artistic ways of expression (Kobayashi 2004:12,22).

Featured image: Reconstruction of the Sannai-Maruyama Site in the Aomori Prefecture. The site shares cultural similarities with settlements of Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula, as well as with later Japanese culture, pointing to continuity between ancient and modern Japanese culture. Photo by 663highland (2014). CC BY 2.5. In: ‘Jōmon period’, in Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia (2022).

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.


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Jawajska Przygoda od Piramidy Światła do Świątyni Tysiąca (a tour offered in Polish).

Archeologia wyspy Jawy wraz z wizytą na Bali.

Wyprawa indywidualna dla 6 – 10/15 osób (w zależności od zainteresowania). Orientacyjny okres wyjazdu: 18-31 lipiec, 2023 (14 dni).

Nazywam się Asia i jestem archeologiem. Obecnie piszę pracę doktorską na Uniwersytecie w Dublinie. Chociaż moją specjalizacją jest głównie tematyka wczesnego chrześcijaństwa w Iroszkocji i jego powiazań z tradycją koptyjską, w ramach moich szerokich zainteresowań i studiów leży również archeologia i mitologia Azji Południowo-Wschodniej, szczególnie wydarzenia opiewane przez eposy Ramajany i Mahabharaty, ale także język architektury hinduistycznej i buddyjskiej.

Z tego tytułu zapraszam na wycieczkę w świat bogów i demonów oraz ich architektonicznych siedzib, przez wieki uznawanych przez ludzi za sacrum a przez archeologów i historyków za zagadkę. A to wszystko w transcendencji baśniowych krajobrazów.

DZIEŃ 1: JAKARTA (18.07.23; lot z Warszawy w tym wypadku odbędzie się 17 lipca)

Witamy w Indonezji! Po wylądowaniu w DŻAKARCIE (zachodnia część wyspy Jawa) czekają Was procedury imigracyjne oraz odbiór bagaży. W hali przylotów będzie czekał na Was przewodnik oraz prywatny, klimatyzowany pojazd, którym wyruszamy w 3-4 godzinną drogę na południe, kierując się tym samym w stronę naszego hotelu. Droga wiedzie nas przez chłodny BOGOR, „miasto deszczu”, za sprawą najwyższego poziomu opadów w Indonezji (pada tu ponad 320 dni w roku!), nad którym majestatycznie góruje WULKAN SALAK. Następnie trasa prowadzi przez plantacje herbaty i rejon PARKU NARODOWEGO GUNUNG GEDE PANGRANGO o powierzchni 150 km2, skupionego na dwóch WULKANACHGEDE i PANGRANGO. Nie trudno zgadnąć, że to właśnie im Park zawdzięcza swoją nazwę. Widowiskową trasę urozmaicimy przerwą na posiłek, relaks w gorących źródłach oraz wizytą u stóp okolicznych wodospadów w okolicy Bogor (w zależności od czasu). Kolację zjemy w rejonie południowego podnóża wulkanu Gede, w przyjemnie chłodnym mieście SUKABUMI (ok. 100 km od Dżakarty), a noc spędzimy w niedużym, 3* hotelu SANTIKA HOTEL SUKABUMI z odkrytym basemen (Superior Room, 25 m2). To świetna baza wypadowa oraz znakomite miejsce, aby zregenerować się po długim dniu aklimatyzacyjnym.

*Free photo source

DZIEŃ 2: BANDUNG (19.07.23)

Po wczesnym śniadaniu czas na wykwaterowanie. Wyruszamy w 2-godzinną trasę do kompleksu megalitycznego GUNUNG PADANG (tłum. “Góra Światła” lub wymiennie “Góra Oświecenia”), którego odkrycie spowodowało sporo zamieszania w powszechnie znanej historii. Tarasy i dziedzińce kompleksu zbudowane są ze skalnych bloków i głazów o wadze 250-600 kg. Nie to jednak stanowi o niezwykłości tego miejsca. Otóż klejone starożytnym cementem ruiny zlokalizowane są na… wzgórzu stworzonym ludzkimi rękami! Archeolodzy dowodzą, że pod spodem kopca o kształcie piramidy czai się najstarsza konstrukcja wybudowana być może nawet 22 000 lat temu przez nieznaną cywilizację sprzed epoki lodowcowej! Oznacza to, że wyprzedziła ona pierwszą znaną cywilizację Mezopotamii o blisko 15 000 lat, a Göbeklitepe o 10 000 lat … Zapraszamy na spacer, który ukaże podobieństwo Gunung Padang do peruwiańskiego Machu Picchu, a także unaoczni rozległość terenu, który jest kilkakrotnie większy od świątyni Borobudur. Porozmawiamy również o kontrowersjach wokół Góry Światła – jak choćby o ofercie kupna praw do tego terenu wartej 1 miliard dolarów amerykańskich. Mówi się, że rząd Indonezji odrzucił tę propozycję licząc, że plotki o złocie ukrytym w piramidzie nie są jedynie plotkami. Gdy emocje nieco opadną, skierujemy się na lokalny lunch oraz w kierunku aktywnego WULKANU TANGKUBAN PERAHU (tłum. “Odwrócona Łódź”, ze względu na kształt góry), skąd rozpościera się oszałamiający widok na region BANDUNG. Następnie wizyta w kalderze wulkanu z wyjątkową panoramą krateru oraz (jeśli czas pozwoli) wizyta w kolejnych gorących źródłach w CIATER, aby odpocząć w ciepłej, siarkowej wodzie lub wizyta na lokalnym targowisku w miejscowości CIWDEY. Kolacja i nocleg w pobliżu KRATEROWEGO JEZIORA KAWAH PUTIHCIWIDEY VALLEY RESORT & HOT SPRING WATERPARK, BANDUNG (Superior Room, 25 m2).

*Photos from ‘Gunung Padang’, in Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia (2022).

DZIEŃ 3: KAWAH PUTIH (20.07.23)

Przed nami kolejne wczesne śniadanie, wykwaterowanie i wyjazd. Drogę umilą nam aromatyczne truskawki, „popisowy numer” tutejszych rolników. Na celowniku mamy KAWAH PUTIH (tłum. “Biały Krater”) ze swym emblematycznym jeziorem o wulkanicznym rodowodzie. Naszym zdaniem jego kolor bliższy jest turkusowi i może zmieniać się w zależności od zawartości siarki. W słoneczne dni kolor jeziora jest surowy i jasny, a w pochmurne cały krater może być spowity mgłą, co zapewnia równie niesamowite doznania. Niezależnie od palety barw hipnotyzujący widok uśpionego krateru jest jednym z najbardziej niezapomnianych przeżyć z Jawy. Posileni lunchem wyruszamy w stronę centralnej Jawy, do PEKALONGAN. 6-7 godzinną trasę pokonujemy klimatyzowanym pojazdem, rekompensując sobie w ten sposób brak połączenia lotniczego na trasie Bandung – Jogjakarta. Do Pekalongan docieramy wieczorem, w samą porę na pożywną kolację i nocleg w hotelu 3* SANTIKA PEKALONGAN (Superior Room, 22 m2), na skraju Morza Jawajskiego.

DZIEŃ 4: YOGYAKARTA (21.07.23)

Po śniadaniu wykwaterowanie i wyjazd z Pekalongan. Upewniamy się, że mamy pod ręką kurtkę przeciwdeszczową, ciepłą bluzę i czapkę, dzięki którym nagłe zmiany warunków atmosferycznych na wysokości 2 300 m n.p.m. nie będą bolesne. Kierowca zabiera nas w malownicze okolice płaskowyżu DIENG (tłum. “Siedziba Boga”), w którym zakochują się wszyscy miłośnicy przyrody. Droga urozmaicona meczetami, wioskami, tarasami ryżowymi na stromych zboczach, plantacjami owoców i warzyw zajmie nam ok. 2-3 godzin. Na dnie kaldery zobaczymy jedne z najstarszych indonezyjskich świątyń, które zostały odkryte przez archeologów w wyniku osuszania gigantycznego jeziora. To nie tylko najstarsze zabytki kultury jawajskiej, ale przede wszystkim jedno z najpiękniejszych miejsc w Indonezji! Mistycyzmu dodają mu aktywne wulkany, na których w VII w. zbudowano świetnie prosperujący, górski kompleks świątynny, o który dbali hinduscy kapłani i pustelnicy. Spędzimy czas nad JEZIOREM TELAGA WARNA, którego kolor wody zmienia się w zależności od czasu, pogody i perspektywy. Wspólnie polować będziemy na moment, w którym woda przybierze fenomenalną, szmaragdową barwę, bowiem o kolorach decyduje załamanie światła osadów siarki, które zalegają na dnie kolejnego, spektakularnego jeziora. Po przerwie na lokalny lunch wyruszamy do YOGYAKARTY (Jogjakarty) (4-5 godzin drogi) – kulturowego centrum wyspy. Zakwaterowanie w GALLERY PRAWIROTAMAN YOGYAKARTA (Deluxe Room, 35 m2), kolacja i odpoczynek.

*Free photo source


Po śniadaniu dzień, na który wszyscy czekaliśmy z nutką ekscytacji. Przygotowujemy niewielkie plecaki, wodę oraz nakrycie głowy i wyruszamy na spotkanie z historią starożytnej Jawy. Główną atrakcją dnia są obiekty wpisane na listę światowego dziedzictwa UNESCO, czyli BOROBUDUR – największa na świecie świątynia buddyjska oraz pobliski PRAMBANAN – imponujący kompleks świątyń hinduistycznych, które swoją wspaniałością mogą konkurować nawet z Angkor Wat. Sąsiedztwo obydwu świątyń będzie przyczynkiem do rozmowy o harmonii i tolerancji. Opowieść rozpoczniemy od zaznajomienia się z nazwą „candi”, którą w języku indonezyjskim określa się świątynie hinduskie i buddyjskie. Candi Borobudur to świątynia z przełomu VIII/ IX wieku. W jej piramidalnej konstrukcji odzwierciedlona jest buddyjska wizja świata. Przez niektórych określany jako mistyczny – krajobraz kilkudziesięciu posągów Buddy, zamkniętych w stupach i ułożonych na planie mandali, którego tłem jest porośnięta dżunglą równina Kedu z wystającym na horyzoncie stożkiem wulkanu Merapi. Prambanan to hinduistyczny kompleks z IX w. Pierwotnie liczył 232 obiekty architektoniczne ułożone na planie trzech wielkich czworokątów, które zostały poważnie uszkodzone przez trzęsienie ziemi za sprawą wybuchu Merapi. Świątynie z Prambanan zniknęły wówczas na tysiąc lat, przysypane pyłem wulkanicznym. Porośnięte lasami czekały cierpliwie, bowiem dla bogów czas przecież nie istnieje. Mieszkańcy Jawy nie odważyli się ruszyć kamieni przez stulecia, bo wierzyli, że wszystkiego pilnują demony. Obejrzymy zatem największy i najbardziej znany kompleks hinduistyczny leżący poza granicami Indii. Posłuchamy o kulcie 3 bogów – Śiwie (Bóg Niszczyciel), Wisznu (Bóg Utrzymujący Świat) i Brahmie (Bóg Stworzyciel), analizując detale ozdobnych reliefów inspirowanych scenami z Ramajany – największego hinduistycznego eposu. Kolejnym przystankiem na tym samym obszarze będzie piękna, choć mało znana, królewska świątynia – CANDI SEWU (tłum. “Świątynia Tysiąca”), druga co do wielkości świątynia wyznawców Buddy na Jawie (tuż po Borobudur). Mówi się, że dawniej otoczona była ponad tysiącem mniejszych stup, stąd wzięła się jej nazwa, jednak archeolodzy doliczyli się 249 pomniejszych świątyń. Zajrzymy jeszcze do buddyjskiej świątyni CANDI PLAOSAN z IX stulecia, składającej się z dwóch bliźniaczych kompleksów. Legenda mówi, że tłem powstania Plaosanu było wielkie uczucie pomiędzy hinduskim księciem i buddyjską księżniczką, których do końca życia nie rozdzieliła religia. Wejścia do świątyni strzegą 4 potężne postacie, przypominające uzbrojone ogry – to wojowniczy dvarapala, czyli strażnicy drzwi lub bramy, dość powszechny element architektoniczny w kulturze hinduskiej i buddyjskiej. W zależności od wielkości i zamożności świątyni strażników ustawiano pojedynczo, w parach lub w większych grupach. Mniejsze budowle mogły mieć tylko jednego dvarapala. Po lunchu czas na ostatnią świątynię na naszej dzisiejszej trasie. Niewielka w porównaniu z Borobudur, buddyjska CANDI MENDUT, szczyci się trzema 3-metrowymi posągami. Wewnątrz ruin z chłodnego mroku wyłonią się trzy monumentalne rzeźby przedstawiające mistyczne ciała Buddy – sami wówczas zobaczycie, że Cewi Mendut jest niesłusznie omijana przez odwiedzających, ponieważ tutejsze rzeźby są arcydziełami na światową skalę. Wieczorem zapraszamy na kolację z set menu (18:30) oraz na wyjątkowy spektakl, który odbędzie się w amfiteatrze pod gołym niebem (w okresie pory suchej, czyli maj – październik; obowiązują 3 klasy biletowe; 19:30 – 20:30). Na naszych oczach odegrany bedzie taneczny dramat RAMAJANA BALLET – czyli interpretacja sanskryckiego eposu „Dzieje Ramy” o indyjskich korzeniach. Godzinne przedstawienie to znakomite połączenie choreografii, muzyki i zachwycających kostiumów blisko 200 tancerzy. Tancerze i aktorzy wystąpią dla nas na tle oświetlonej świątyni Prambanan. By mieć pewność, że nie poczujecie się zagubieni, przed rozpoczęciem spektaklu nakreślimy jego fabułę, a także podpowiemy na co zwrócić szczególną uwagę. Druga noc w GALLERY PRAWIROTAMAN YOGYAKARTA (Deluxe Room, 35 m2) i czas na regenerację po aktywnym dniu.


Po śniadaniu wykwaterowanie i przejazd do ruin RATU BOKO, których funkcja do dziś pozostaje zagadką. Niektórzy eksperci sądzą, że miejsce miało character religijny, inni zaś upatrują w nim ufortyfikowany pałac królewski z wyraźną pozostałością murów obronnych. Dzięki położeniu na zboczu wzgórza rozpościera się stąd piękna panorama Prambanan i WULKANU MERAPI – tło, które aż się prosi, by uwiecznić je na zdjęciach. Wyruszamy na zachód wyspy, w kierunku CANDI CETO. Po drodze postój na lokalny lunch, następnie około 3 godz. drogi z okazją do degustacji tutejszych owoców egzotycznych. Uprzedzamy, że droga do jawajsko-hinduskiej świątyni Candi Ceto jest wymagająca – złośliwi mówią, że tylko dla ludzi o mocnych nerwach, bo pnie się stromo w górę wzdłuż wysokich klifów. Pora przyodziać się w coś cieplejszego, bo Candi Ceto wzniesiono na zboczu STRATOWULKANU GUNUNG LAWU, na wysokości blisko 1 500 m n.p.m. Świątynia do złudzenia przypomina obiekty, które znać możemy z Bali. Dysponuje kilkoma tarasami, z których najwyższe są niedostępne dla odwiedzających, bowiem Candi Ceto wciąż pozostaje aktywnym miejscem kultu religijnego. Warto pamiętać, że Gunung Lawu stanowi także umowną granicę pomiędzy Centralną a Wschodnią Jawą, którą przekroczymy już jutro. Nocleg w SUKUH COTTAGE NEAR CANDI SUKUH (Standard Room, 16 m2).

*Free photo source


Stałym zwyczajem tuż po śniadaniu wykwaterujemy się, będąc gotowi do drogi w stronę pobliskiej, hinduistycznej świątyni CANDI SUKUH, określanej mianem „erotycznej świątyni”. Ukryta w lesie, pozwoli nam odbyć krótki trekking nim dotrzemy do piramidy z grubo ciosanego kamienia, która przywodzi na myśl budowle Majów z terenów dzisiejszego Meksyku i Ameryki Centralnej. Przed nami trzypoziomowa architektura z XV w. ulokowana na zachodnim zboczu góry Gunung Lawu. Zagadkowa, odizolowana świątynia słynie ze swych płaskorzeźb, na których większość postaci jest naga od pasa w dół. Genitalia są przedstawione na kilku posągach, co jest dość rzadkie wśród klasycznych zabytków jawajskich. Niektórzy tłumaczą to historią powstania świątyni. Była ona bowiem wybudowana w czasie, gdy na Jawie toczyły się walki o władzę między muzułmanami, którzy zajmowali północ wyspy, a hindusami, którzy przeważali na południu. Miecze i penisy miałyby symbolizować hinduistyczne zwycięstwo z powodu większej męskości. „Erotyczna świątynia” będzie głównym tematem rozmów podczas lunchu, natomiast tuż po nim wyruszamy w długą drogę do aktywnego WULKANU BROMO – jednego z najsłynniejszych wulkanów w całej Indonezji. Zajmie nam to ok. 7-8 godz., które urozmaicimy historiami o starożytnej i dzisiejszej Jawie. Zmieniający się krajobraz umili nam najdłuższy z transferów na naszej trasie. Dzisiejsza noc będzie krótka, ze względu na wczesną pobudkę i obserwowanie wschodu słońca nad Bromo, dlatego po kolacji zachęcamy do porządnej regeneracji. Zakwaterowanie i kolacja w CEMARA INDAH HOTEL NEAR MT. BROMO (Standard Room, 18 m2), możliwie najbliżej punktu startu jutrzejszej eskapady.


Przygotowani na chłód i wiatr, wyruszamy już o 3:00 – 3:30. Mrok nocy przecinają wiązki światła naszych samochodów terenowych. Kierujemy się do PARKU NARODOWEGO BROMO TENGGER SEMERU, a dokładniej w stronę zbocza Mt. Penanjakan, do najpopularniejszego punktu widokowego. Czeka nas krótki, acz intensywny spacer z latarkami lub czołówkami z parkingu do najwyżej położonego punktu widokowego “King Kong Hill” (ok. 15 min) lub „Seruni Platform” (mniej popularnego). Warto być jednak przygotowanym na nieprzyjemne warunki atmosferyczne, przede wszytskim chłód. Już za moment niebo zacznie płynnie zmieniać kolory, szykując dla nas jeden z popisowych spektakli Matki Natury. Z ciemności wyłonią się kolejno trzej kompani – WULKAN BATOK (2 470 m n.p.m.), BROMO (2 329 m n.p.m.), SEMERU – najwyższy szczyt Jawy (3 676 m n. p. m.) oraz kilka mniej popularnych wulkanów i kalder znajdujących się na terenie parku. Z każdą minutą ich zbocza będą mienić się coraz cieplejszymi barwami. Uroku temu pocztówkowemu krajobrazowi dodaje położenie Bromo. Wulkan znajduje się wewnątrz masywnej kaldery Tengger (krater wulkaniczny o średnicy około 10 km), otoczonej morzem jasnego piasku wulkanicznego. Nim oddalimy się w stronę hotelu i śniadania, przejedziemy w pobliżu krawędzi Bromo, a chętni będą mogli przespacerować się po wulkanicznym pyle i wykorzystać poranne światło do fantastycznych ujęć. Uwaga: najlepszą przejrzystość powietrza i szansę na podziwianie panoramy Parku Narodowego niesie ze sobą okres od kwietnia do października. Wracamy do hotelu, aby sprawnie zjeść śniadanie, spakować bagaże i wyruszyć na lotnisko w Surabaya (ok. 4 godz.), skąd odlecimy do Denpasar (Bali). Po drodze przerwa na lunch lub posiłek na lotnisku (w zależności od zapasu czasu). Pożegnanie z polskojęzycznym, jawajskim przewodnikiem i check-in na przelot na Bali – wyspę, o której mawia się, że zagęszczenie świątyń to 4 budowle na 1 kilometr kwadratowy! Lądujemy na BALI, odbieramy bagaże i witamy się z kolejnym polskojęzycznym przewodnikiem. Kierujemy się wspólnie do komfortowego, kameralnego hotelu SOL BENOA BY MELIA 4* (Sol Room, 50 m2) z dostępem do dość szerokiej plaży ze złotym piaskiem. Trasa do hotelu zajmie nam ok. kilkunastu minut dzięki niedawno wybudowanej, płatnej drodze ekspresowej. Kolacja we własnym zakresie – w hotelu, w jednej z pobliskich restauracji lub w punktach ze street-foodem do których z łatwością można dotrzeć pieszo wybierając się na spacer poza kompleks hotelowy. Uwaga: w przypadku zmian w programie lub jeśli wyda się to Wam zasadne, na Wasze wyraźne życzenie możemy wykupić pakiet all-inclusive 24/7. Pakietu nie możemy rezerwować na wybrane dni, może obowiązywać wyłącznie przez cały czas trwania zakwaterowania.

*Free photo source


Wczesne śniadanie oraz spotkanie z przewodnikiem, który porwie Was w drogę na północny zachód Bali oraz na kolację i zakupy w UBUD. Przed nami kolejny, intensywny dzień. Na początek ok. 2 godz. trasy wiodącej przez wioski i zielone tarasy ryżowe. Prawie na pewno napotykamy przynajmniej kilka procesji religijnych (pogrzeb, ślub lub cykliczne lokalne ceremonie) – szybko przekonacie się wówczas, że Bali jest jak jeden wielki plener fotograficzny! Odwiedzimy PURA BESAKIH na zboczu świętej GÓRY AGUNG, zwaną „Matką Wszystkich Świątyń”. Ze względu na to, że jest to najważniejsza świątynia, celebrowane są tutaj liczne święta – około 70 w ciągu 210 dni balijskiego kalendarza. Znajdziemy się na wysokości ok. 1000 m n.p.m., aby zwiedzić cześć z zespołu 23 świątyń i mniejszych sanktuariów. Najważniejszym miejscem jest PURA PENATARAN AGUN LEMPUYANG, do której można się dostać po pokonaniu wysokich schodów i przejściu przez “candi bentar” (rozszczepioną bramę). Przyjrzymy się ołtarzom dedykowanym hinduistycznej trójcy – Trimurti. Ołtarze udekorowane są na różne kolory odpowiadające konkretnemu bóstwu. Biały to kolor Sziwy, czerwony Brahmy, a czarny Wisznu. Następnie pora na górzysty region KINTAMANI z emblematycznym, masywnym wulkanem i KRATEREM BATUR, jeziorem o tej samej nazwie i okolicznymi dolinami. Jeśli pożywny lunch i aromatyczna kawa z tutejszej plantacji, to koniecznie z widokiem na wulkan! Zatrzymamy się w malowniczej wiosce na krawędzi krateru na szereg balijskich specjałów i kolejną porcję zdjęć. Po ok. 1 godz. przejździe znajdziemy się w pobliżu Ubud, a dokładniej mówiąc w GUNUNG KAWI  – kompleksie grobowców i świątyń rodem z XI wieku. To jedno z najbardziej fascynujących stanowisk archeologicznych na Bali. Otoczone polami ryżowymi, częściowo pochłonięte przez dżunglę, sprawia wrażenie opuszczonego i niedostępnego miejsca. Gunung Kawi obejmuje grupę 9 królewskich nagrobków, wykutych w skalistych klifach po obu stronach wąwozu świętej rzeki Pakerisan (która dalej niespiesznie płynie do świętych źródeł wody w pobliskiej świątyni TIRTA EMPUL, jednej z najsłynniejszych i nie bez kozery najładniejszych miejsc na wyspie). Zobaczymy je pod warunkiem pokonania 370 schodów, które doprowadzą nas do zacisznego miejsca pośród skał. Tu bije ogromna energia niosąca ze sobą harmonię. Przed wejściem na teren kompleksu mija się szpalery sklepików z całym swym dobrodziejstwem – wygospodarujemy nieco czasu na zakupy, na które pojawi się także szansa w Ubud. Pół godziny później jesteśmy już w leśnym parku „Monkey Forest Sanctuary”, na spacerze w towarzystwie zuchwałych makaków. Pilnując okularów i plecaków niespiesznie maszerujemy do XIV- wiecznej świątyni DALEM AGUNG PADANGTEGAL, wzniesionej ku czci bogini śmierci, Durgi. W międzyczasie pojawią się kolejne okazje do zakupu rękodzieła (m. in. wiklinowych torebek, łapaczy snów, kadzideł, ubrań i dodatków) w sklepikach z mydłem i powidłem oraz na pchlim targu w Ubud. Czas wolny warto przeznaczyć na samodzielną kolację w wybranej przez siebie (lub rekomendowanej przez nas) restauracji, następnie wspólny spacer przez Ubud w stronę naszego pojazdu. Po zmroku wracamy do hotelu SOL BENOA BY MELIA 4* (Sol Room, 50 m2).

DAY 10: CZAS WOLNY (27.07.23)

Dzień, który zawsze niesie ze sobą wiele frajdy – czas wolny, który można spędzić we własnym stylu. Awanturnikom i niespokojnym duchom pomożemy zorganizować dodatkową, indywidualną wyprawę np. całodzienną eskapadę na słynną wyspę NUSA PENIDA z okazją do snorklowania i plażowania; CEREMONIĘ OCZYSZCZENIA w wybranej, balijskiej świątyni; wyprawę w okolicę UBUD, by przespacerować się przez tarasy ryżowe i spędzić dzień w Jungle Beach Barze; masaż i zakupy w modnych dzielnicach Bali. Lunch i kolacja we własnym zakresie. Kolejna noc w hotelu SOL BENOA BY MELIA 4* (Sol Room, 50 m2).

*Free photo source


Kolejna zmiana adresu. Dzień rozpoczynamy śniadaniem w hotelu, wykwaterowaniem i przejazdem na lotnisko w Denpasar. Stąd o 10:20 wyruszamy w rejs liniami Batik Air do LABUAN BAJO na wyspie FLORES (czas przelotu ok. 1 godz.; możliwe są późniejsze połączenia, aby wykorzystać czas na Bali), meldując się na miejscu już o 11:30. W trakcie całej podróży towarzyszy polskojęzyczny przewodnik. Przejazd na lunch z zimnym piwem oraz check-in w hotelu w Labuan Bajo. Czas wolny na basenie, na plaży lub w mieście. Samodzielna kolacja w restauracji hotelowej lub poza miejscem zakwaterowania. Zakwaterowanie w PURI SARI BEACH HOTEL 3* z bezpośrednim dostępem do plaży.


Po śniadaniu wyruszamy na prywatną eksplorację PARKU NARODOWEGO KOMODO – jednego z najbardziej oryginalnych, a przez to najciekawszych parków we wschodniej Azji, nie na darmo wpisanym do „7 Nowych Cudów Natury”. Zobaczymy wszystkie miejsca, które przyciągają turystów z całego świata niczym magnes, pamiętając przy tym, że na PN Komodo składa się aż 30 wysp! Przygotowujemy ręczniki, stroje kąpielowe i kremy z filtrem, łapiemy wiatr w żagle i cumujemy przy KELOR ISLAND, aby jeszcze przed słońcem w zenicie wdrapać się na tutejszy punkt widokowy dla wspaniałej, niemal katalogowej panoramy – na horyzoncie okoliczne wyspy, wszelkiej maści łodzie i turkusowa woda. Na dole czeka na nas poczęstunek oraz czas na pierwsze snorklowanie. Uwaga: podłoże jest kruche I kamieniste, dlatego podczas wspinaczki przydadzą się zakryte, dobrze trzymające buty sportowe z bieżnikiem. Nim zrobi się okrutnie gorąco, a my poczujemy się jak w terrarium, cumujemy przy słynnej RINCA ISLAND, jednego z dwóch adresów waranów z Komodo. Wyruszamy w trwający blisko godzinę trekking po sawannie w towarzystwie lokalnych rangerów, aby na własne oczy spotkać endemiczne, 3-metrowe smoki z Komodo ze skórą niczym zbroja. Jak to z naturą bywa, możemy napotkać ich kilka lub wcale, ospałe lub aktywne. Na wyspie Rinca żyje ich ok. 1050 sztuk na 198 km2 (na Komodo ok. 1 700 sztuk na 390 km2; źródło: BBC 2020, dane na 2018 r., brak aktualnych danych na temat populacji w podziale na wyspy). Szlaki trekkingowe mają różne poziomy trudności i długość. Czas na schłodzenie się w orzeźwiającej, krystalicznie czystej wodzie, następnie lunch z przekąskami z grilla oraz zimne piwo na łodzi. Na kolację i nocleg wracamy do hotelu PURI SARI BEACH HOTEL 3* z bezpośrednim dostępem do plaży. Samodzielna kolacja w restauracji hotelowej lub poza miejscem zakwaterowania.


Przed nami kolejny dzień na terenie PN Komodo, dlatego wypływamy skoro świt. Po najpiękniejszą panoramę regionu wyruszamy na PADAR ISLAND, przytulnie umiejscowioną pomiędzy Rinca a Komodo. Jest tu naprawdę bajecznie, a tej panoramy po prostu nie wypada przegapić. Wspinaczka zajmie nam ok. 20-40 minut, na szczyt wiedzie całkiem komfortowa, betonowa trasa ze stopniami i kamieniami. Nie ma roślin czy wzniesień rzucających cień, więc zawsze maszeruje się tu w pełnym słońcu. Po drodze pojawia się wiele punktów widokowych na których możemy poprzestać, ale te najbardziej spektakularne są na samym szczycie. Cumujemy przy niewielkiej wyspie KOMODO, gdzie na dość rozległym, leśnym terytorium (390 km2) żyje blisko 1700 waranów. To nasza drugie podejście na wypadek gdyby wizyta na Rinca skończyła niepowodzeniem, a Wami targały mieszane uczucia. Rezerwujemy czas na lunch, zdjęcia i snorklowanie na rafie przy PINK BEACH, której kolor nadają małe cząsteczki czerwonego koralowca. Przed zachodem słońca kierujemy się na wyspę Kalong, by pokazała nam kolejny cud Parku – zrywające się do lotu „latające lisy”, które o zmierzchu wyruszają na sąsiednie wyspy w poszukiwaniu jedzenia. Olbrzymia kolonia niegroźnych dla człowieka nietoperzy na tle wielobarwnego nieba wygląda jak wielka migracja ptaków. Na kolację i nocleg wracamy do hotelu PURI SARI BEACH HOTEL 3* z bezpośrednim dostępem do plaży. Samodzielna kolacja w restauracji hotelowej lub poza miejscem zakwaterowania.

Brama niebo przy świątynii balijskiej PURA PENATARAN AGUN LEMPUYANG z widokiem na wulkan o zmierzchu

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DAY 14: POWRÓT NA BALI (31.07.23)

Śniadanie w hotelu, wykwaterowanie i wyjazd w kierunku lotniska Labuan Bajo. W towarzystwie polskojęzycznego przewodnika lecimy do DENPASAR, na Bali (wylot rejsem linii Batik Air; czas przelotu: ok. 1 godz.), skąd kierujemy się na pożegnalny lunch. Wybraliśmy dla Państwa miejsce, które robi wrażenie tak na gościach, jak na nas samych. Beach bar z pięknym designem, smacznym jedzeniem, kolorową mieszanką gości – La Brisa Beach Restaurant Canggu w rejonie SEMINYAK, słynącego z dobrych restauracji, modnych barów i klubów. Dla chętnych czas na zakupy oraz 60-minutowy masaż ciała w PRANA SPA, który rozluźni Was przed podróżą. Transfer na lotnisko uzależniamy od ostatecznej godziny Waszego wylotu.


Wycieczka oparta na scenariuszu Archaeotravel.eu organizowana przez Biuro Podróży: Ex Oriente Lux. Cena bedzie dostepna końcem jesieni 2022. Zgłoszenia przyjmujemy do końca marca, 2023 lub do wyczerpania miejsc.


• Loty wewnętrzne (Surabaya – Denpasar; Denpasar – Labuan Bajo – Denpasar)

• Prywatny transfer klimatyzowanym pojazdem

• Polskojęzyczny przewodnik na Jawie

• Polskojęzyczny przewodnik na Bali

• Zakwaterowanie w obiektach kategorii 3* i 4*

• Wyżywienie full-board na Jawie (śniadanie, lunch, kolacja)

• Wyżywienie half-board na Bali (śniadanie, lunch)

• Spektakl Ramajany

• Masaż ostatniego dnia

• Butelkowana woda (2 x 0,5 l dziennie)

• Opłaty wstępu, niezbędne podatki

• Ubezpieczenie KL i NNW


• Wiza (pod warunkiem dalszego obowiązywania w lipcu 2023).

• Loty międzynarodowe

• Napiwki uznaniowe

Jeżeli chcesz do nas dołączyć, proszę o kontakt.

Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb Within the Lore of Giants

Like two months before Christmas, 2018, a group of three archaeology students started to conduct a thorough archaeological survey of Ballyedmonduff wedge tomb in Co. Dublin, in order to gain a better understanding of the site. I was one of them. Although we were not allowed to do proper archaeological digs, we documented instead the archaeological remains in detail, including research of the folklore surrounding the so-called ‘Giant’s Graves’ as the wedge tomb of Ballyedmonduff is usually called (McGuire et al. 2019:3). Before the date of submitting the project, in February, 2019, we visited the site a number of times. “The tomb itself is marked on the Park’s map, as the ‘Giant’s Grave’ [and] is situated on land owned by Glencullen Adventure Park (GAP), a privately-run facility mainly engaged in the provision of mountain biking trails. Some of these trails run close to the tomb” (Ibid.:4), which frequently made our work in the field more difficult, when groups of people, like children of a school trip started climbing up the tomb stones and jumping between our tools and measuring tapes. The weather was not on our side either. Although it was not often raining (or snowing), it was really freezing, especially in the shadow of the forest, and adding that we were spending long hours of working in the filed, mostly staying in the same position, while taking precise measurements, making a drawing or reading levels calculations. So a nearby coffee shop often saved our lives. On the other side, I remember this project as one of the most interesting assignments at the university and the reason why I have actually chosen archaeology as my profession. Comparing it to the work I do for living, sitting for hours in a noisy office and listening to complaining clients, wading through the mud and patiently observing stones definitely win. And when no one appeared on the trail at that time, there was such an eerie silence, soaring in the darkness of the surrounding trees, that it seemed it would disturb the sleep of the buried giant who would finally wake up to leave his lair of stones.

Wedge tombs are the most numerous and distinctive type of megalithic passage tombs. They are found all over Ireland but mainly in the west and the south-west (Ruggles, 2005:435; O’Sullivan and Downey, 2010:36-39). Mystery surrounds these great stone monuments which stand remarkably in lonely places and fit into wild Irish landscapes (Evans, 1938:7).  Wedge tomb constructions mainly took place between 2500 – 1800 BC. (O’Sullivan and Downey, 2010:36-39), placing them chronologically towards the end of a rich tradition of Neolithic tomb construction in Ireland (Ruggles, 2005:435) and constructions petered out circa 1900-1600 BC. (O’Sullivan and Downey, 2010:36-39).  Over five hundred examples of wedge tombs are currently known in the Republic of Ireland (Ruggles, 2005:435), but many more have been destroyed over the intervening centuries (O’Sullivan and Downey, 2010:36-39).  A map of the distribution of wedge tombs in the Republic of Ireland is shown in Figure 10, based on GIS data with the latest information from the NMS (National Monuments Service Website).

The Ballyedmonduff tomb forms part of a small group of wedge tombs in the Dublin region (see Figure 11) which include Ilmashogue Wedge Tomb located half way up Three Rock Mountain near Kilmashogue Recreation Area car park – (SMR DU025- 00701); Killakee Wedge Tomb in Massey’s Estate Forest Park – (SMR DU025-022); Laughanstown Wedge Tomb in Cabinteely – (SMR DU026-024); and Shankill Wedge Tomb (SMR – DU026-059). 

Figure 11: The Ballyedmonduff as a part of a small group of tombs in the Dublin region, with Ilmashogue Wedge Tomb, Killakee Wedge Tomb, Laughanstown Wedge Tomb, and Shankill Wedge Tomb; based on GIS data for the use of the Survey of Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb (‘Giant’s Grave’), made by Maurice McGuire, Joanna Pyrgies, and Susan Ryan, February 2019. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

In terms of their chamber size, wedge tombs can be divided into two separate categories: single wedge-shaped, box like constructions, and long and low wedge-shaped galleries (O’Sullivan and Downey, 2010:36-39).  The former is typical of north-west Clare, while the latter occur particularly in the north, although examples happen elsewhere (Ibid.:36-39). Ballyedmonduff appears to be large, complex and well-built in the context of the class as a whole and as a gallery grave belongs to the second category of wedge tombs. Whilst wedge tombs vary widely in size (Ruggles, 2005:435), they have defining characteristics – a trapezoidal central chamber, with its sides formed by two lines of large, upright stones (orthostates), getting wider and higher toward the entrance end, from east to west, and forming a wedge shape (Ó’Ríordáin and de Valéra, 1952:61-81), hence their name.  An antechamber is separated from the main chamber (the burial area) by a jamb or sill.  Such tombs were often covered with cairns, which could be round, oval or heel-shaped, often with kerb stones around to support the whole construction (Ibid.:61-81).  

The other characteristic that confirms the wedge tomb as a significant category of monument, is the strong consistency in their orientation, with their doorway generally facing west (Ruggles, 2005:435; An Salisbury et al. 2007:226-227, 231-232; Ó’Ríordáin, De Valera 1952:61-81). Nearly all known examples face the western arc of the horizon, with a large group facing south-west (Ruggles, 2005:435; An Salisbury et al. 2007:226-227, 231-232; Ó’Ríordáin, De Valera 1952:61-81). It is unusual to have such a clear preference for westerly orientation among a group of Neolithic tombs (Ruggles, 2005:435; An Salisbury et al. 2007:226-227, 231-232; Ó’Ríordáin, De Valera 1952:61-81). Their pattern of alignment fits the sun descending or setting model (Ruggles, 2005:435; An Salisbury et al. 2007:226-227, 231-232; Ó’Ríordáin, De Valera 1952:61-81). In other words, Ruggles (2005:435) notes that each wedge tomb was oriented upon a position where the sun was seen either to set, or to be descending in the sky on a significant day – perhaps the day on which construction was begun.

Levels exercise on the site of Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb, located in Glencullen Adventure Park (GAP), Ballyedmonduff, Ireland. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Wedge tomb concentrations appear to be denser around mountains than in the lowlands (Salisbury and Keeler, 2007:226-227, 231-232). Throughout Ireland, wedge tombs can be found at elevations.  They are on the summits or slopes of drumlins, hills or foothills, with a smaller number on the sides of higher mountains (including Ballyedmonduff). Unlike in the case of portal or court tombs, it seems that builders preferred hilly locations, though not to the exclusion of other landscape settings – one exception is that no wedge tombs are found on mountain peaks (Salisbury and Keeler, 2007:226-227, 231-232; Ó’Ríordáin, De Valera 1952:61-81). They do not often appear to have been in close proximity to the coastline, as in the case of Altar Wedge Tomb in Co. Cork.  Still they show a pattern of concentration closer to rivers or lakes (Salisbury and Keeler, 2007:226-227, 231-232; Ó’Ríordáin, De Valera 1952:61-81).  Salisbury and Keeler (2007:226-227, 231-232) note that it seems likely that water represented no more than an exploitable resource to the wedge tomb builders, with no ritual or cosmological significance. The suitability of an area for settlement and farming, together with the availability copper (e.g. in Cork-Kerry area), influenced the locations of wedge tombs (O’Sullivan and Downey, 2010:36-39).

The lore of the giant’s tombs

Prehistory in Ireland begins around 8000 – 7000 BC (Powell, 2012:11-16).  The most prominent remains of this early prehistoric period are the megalithic tombs in general, the majority of which were constructed in 4000 – 2000 BC. (Ibid.:11-16).  Depending on their particular shape and category, some of them have been referred to as Giant’s Tombs or Graves, others were called Druid’s Altars, mainly to describe portal tombs (dolmens) (Ibid.:11-16).  During the first part of the 19th century, before the completion of archaeological research on Irish megaliths, such tombs were widely noted in literature (Ibid.:11-16). A great number of these legendary sites reappear on the OS maps in 1902, 1904-05, 1907 and 1913-14 under names such as Cromlechs, Druid’s Altars, Giant’s Beds, Giant’s Griddles, Giant’s Graves or Dermot and Grania’s Bed (Cody, 2002). According to Survey of Megalithic Tombs of Ireland, Vol. 1-6, some of the tombs had been destroyed, others were not accepted after inspection as proven megalithic tombs, and the reasons for their rejections are noted in each case (De Valéra and Ó Nuallain, 1961-1989; De Valera, Ó Nuallain 1982).

Many megalithic structures are so huge that numerous legends say they were built by a race of giants for different purposes (Powell 2012:11-16). Some of them were believed to have held dead giants, which would account for their enormous size, and hence the name Giant’s Tomb seemed appropriate (Ibid.:11-16), although not all megalithic tombs have been known under that name. According to OS maps from the first part of the 20th century, and our GIS survey, the greatest number of Giant’s Graves is present in County Sligo (73), which looks like a huge megalithic cemetery. In Ireland, the term Giant’s Grave usually refers to wedge tombs (46), court tombs (54), portal tombs (9) and unclassified tombs (21). The same records indicate there is no passage tombs known as Giant Graves (see Figure 12) (Powell 2012:11-16; De Valéra and Ó Nuallain, 1961-1989).

The term Giant’s Grave is probably the most widely used as far afield as Ireland, Sardinia and Denmark (Evans 1938:7). It can be readily understood how giants were invoked to explain these monstrous architectural achievements (Ibid.:7).  Legends of giants, who undertake extraordinary feats are very common in Irish mythology (Powell 2012:11-16). These legendary tales were usually used by the 18th century Victorian Antiquarians and earlier writers (Ibid.:11-16).  Already in ancient times, these so-called romantic concepts abounded about the origins and the builders of great megalithic structures, not only in Ireland but worldwide (Powell 2012:11-16). The term Giant’s tomb was already recorded at the beginning of 2nd century AD. by Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist (Plutarch, 2nd century AD.).  Plutarch describes that when the Roman general Sertorius (123-72 BC) took over the city of Tingis (Tangier, Morocco), he broke open the tomb of Antaeus, the giant venerated by Phoenicians (Ibid.). To his surprise, he found a body sixty cubits long (about 27 metres) (Quayle and Albertino, 2017), “and after performing a sacrifice filled up the tomb again, and joined in magnifying its traditions and honours” (Plutarch, op. cit.) (see On the Southern Side of the Strait of Gibraltar).   

Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb (‘Giant’s Grave’). Photo by Maurice McGuire. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Most of the megalithic monuments, from the Greek, megas, ‘great’, and lithos ‘stone’, are today assigned to major classes and each are named after an important distinguishing feature (Powell 2012:11-16). Among them, there are the so-called tombs, temples, fortifications, citadels, towers, alignments, and hedges (Quayle, Alberino). Megalithic architecture was also described by the ancient Greeks as cyclopean after the race of giants with only one eye, who were believed to have been great craftsmen and builders (Ibid.). For the ancient, Cyclops were the offspring of gods, and they attributed them with megalithic structures throughout the Mediterranean, such as the walls of Mycenae (Ibid.). The term cyclopean masonry is nowadays used by archaeologists to describe an engineering technique that incorporates large stones without the use of mortar (Ibid.). The style ranges roughhewn stone structures as displayed, for example, in nuraghe towers all over Sardinia, or in structures of north-western and south Europe, Africa, Near East, and southern Asia, to incomprehensibly precise edifices devised with immense polygons of blocks (Italy, Greece, Malta, Egypt, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Peru etc.) (Ibid.). The knowledge of cyclopean masonry vanished but all over the world, anywhere megaliths are present, legends of giants abound (Ibid.).

In relation to megalithic sepulchre architecture there are four major categories, such as passage tombs, court tombs, portal tombs and wedge tombs, with other minor categories (Powell 2012:11-16). The so-called giant’s tombs or graves are scattered all over Ireland: the Giant Leap (wedge tomb) in Co. Cavan’s Burren Forest Park, Giant’s Grave on the Laois and Offaly border in Killinaparson, Moytirra East Court Tomb in Co. Sligo, and Giant’s Load (dolmen) at Proleek, Co. Louth, to name just a few.  Some of them tell a story of giants buried there, others, such as the megalithic tomb in Killinaparson are believed to be the resting place of ancient warriors or heroes (Slieve Bloom Association, 2019).  In Proleek, the dolmen is said to have been erected by the Scottish giant named Parrah Boug McShagean, whose body was buried nearby (Dempsey, 2008).  Co. Cavan’s Burren Forest Park, also has a giant story associated with its name (Goldbaum 2010-2019).  According to Harold Johnson (1998), from the nearby town of Blacklion, the giant, attempting to impress a lady, failed in his final attempt to jump the nearby chasm, which is, of course, called the Giant’s Leap (Goldbaum 2010-2019).  After the giant’s fell down and broke his back, he was buried in what’s called now the Giant’s Grave (Ibid.) There are two giant’s tombs near Dublin, one of which is a portal tomb located in Brennanstown, the other is the subject matter of the project and is known as Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb.  Although the latter is also referred to as a Giant’s Grave, there is no known local folklore of a giant or giants linked to this site.

The Giant’s Grave of Ballyedmonduff is located on the lower south-eastern slopes of the Two Rock Mountain, close to the stream (Ó’Ríordáin and De Valéra, 1952:61-68). Nowadays there is a dense pine forest, but in the past, there may have been splendid views of Dublin Bay and Wicklow mountains from the site (Ibid.: 61-68). The grave’s structure consists of a gallery aligned approximately west-east (Ibid.:61-68).  Today partially destroyed and disarranged, the gallery is divided by two septal stones into three parts of different size: ante-chamber, separated burial chamber, and a smaller niche or chamber closed with the back stone (Ibid.:61-68).  The eastern side of the tomb (which was once covered by a cairn) is delimited by horse-shoe shaped kerbs with a row of orthostats forming a straight façade at the western end, onto which the entrance to the tomb opened (Ibid.:61-68). During excavations in 1940s there were some finds recorded at the site: about 150 pieces of pottery, twenty-seven pieces of flint, a perforated polished hammer, and a few fragments of cremated bone of human origin (Ibid.61-68).  

Wedge tombs are said to have primarily served as collective burials for social groups (Evans, 1938:7) and territorial markers (Salisbury and Keeler, 2007:226, 231-232).  Yet, some giant’s graves yield no osseous remains (Frazer, 1895:64). Some scholars even suggest such constructions as wedge tombs did not originally serve as sepulchre at all but they were re-used as tombs by later generations or cultures (Brennan, 1994).  According to Walsh (1995) wedge tombs were not simply burial structures or territorial markers.  They seem to have served a variety of functions ranging from the practical to the symbolic (Walsh 1995).  Studies in archaeoastronomy carried out by scientists such as Lomsdalen (2014) and Brennan (1994) show that megalithic architecture holds a strong relationship to the sky. Accordingly, some theorists, for example Kaulins (2003), claim Ballyedmonduff used to be a geodetic astronomical planisphere (i.e. a star chart formed by the position of the stones), and the largest megalith on the site marks the constellation of Andromeda, while other stones are related to other major stellar constellations of the sky.  He believes that all of the stones were intentionally placed there to serve a particular purpose and were not placed there by chance (Ibid.).  Each was selected for their particular position out of the many stones available (Ibid.).  Kaulins (1995) also notes that megaliths made of quartz, granite or particular colour deserve special attention. 

As there is no straight answer on the purpose of giant’s graves in Ireland, it is valuable to look closer at other megaliths bearing the same name outside Ireland and compare them, especially the tombs built in Sardinia – an island famous for its legendary gigantic inhabitants.  All over this island, there are massive stone sepulchres commonly called the tombs of giants.  Similarly, in Ireland, most of the megalithic stones once incorporated into ancient monuments were partially dismantled long ago by residents of local villages, however, they are still impressive (Quayle and Alberino, 2017).  Sardinian licenced archaeological guide Maria Paola Loi, confirms there are legends in Sardinia saying that the tombs themselves were not designed to house the bodies of giants (Loi, 2017). The giant’s body was inhumated first underneath and the monument was built on top once the body was buried (Ibid.).

Loi (2017) explains that an aperture inside the tombs was used by young men during the so-called rite of passage ceremony to stay in contact with the soul of ancestors, known as heroes or giants. Boys would crawl into the narrow opening of the entrance stele and sit down in the tomb gallery on particular celestial events, when it was believed that the giants’ powers were released (Ibid.). She notes that each boy would individually spend a few days and nights there, meditating alone and absorbing the energy of the mighty one buried beneath (Ibid.).  Likewise, O’Sullivan and Downey (2010:36-39) explain that in Ireland “megalithic tombs were symbolic expressions of ideological beliefs, ritual authority and access to the supernatural”.  They also note that the wedge tomb was at the centre of a community of individuals who shared the same beliefs and values (Ibid.:36-39). The ancestors may have been regarded as spirits whose function was to communicate with higher spirits to further the prosperity of the whole community (Loi, 2017).

Francesco Cubeddu (2011). Aerial view of the Giant’s grave of Sa Domu ‘e S’Orcu in Sardinia. CC BY-SA 4.0. In “Giants’ grave”. In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

There are two kinds of giant’s tombs in Sardinia (Loi, 2017).  The major group consists of the so-called horned cairns, namely long wedged-shaped galleries of upright stones, divided or segmented by stone pillars, sometimes with low transverse slabs between them, dividing them into oblong compartments (Evans, 1938:10-12). Unlike Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb, they do not feature a distinct chamber at the end, as the gallery is thought to have been an actual burial place (Ibid.10-12).  If preserved, the gallery is roofed by corbels and covered with cap stones (Ibid.:10-12), some weighing up to 20 tons (Quayle and Alberino, 2017).  Although cap stones were once present at Ballyedmonduff, as shown in the Ordnance Survey sketches, they are missing now at the site.  A very significant feature of the tombs in Sardinia is the entrance (Evans, 1938:10-12; Quayle and Alberino, 2017).  Namely, it is emphasized and set off by a curving line of orthostates, forming an imposing semi-circular façade embracing a forecourt (Evans, 1938:10-12; Quayle and Alberino, 2017). 

The term horned cairns come from the resemblance which the layout of the forecourt bears to the horns of a bull (Evans, 1938:10-12).  This type of forecourt does not occur in the typical form of Irish wedge tombs. Although monuments with this type of forecourt are found especially in the south-west of Scotland and the south of France, and seem to derive from Sardinia, Northern Ireland is the region of their richest development, and they are mostly clustered around Carlingford Lough in Ulster, such as Browndod tomb in Co. Antrim (Ibid.:10-12).

Remains of a statue representing an opulent woman or a goddess found in the area of the temple Ggantija. Is it a representation of the Giantess Sansuna? Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Although passage tombs in Ireland are not remembered as giants’ tombs, an Irish legend has it that the passage tombs of Loughcrew were created when a giant witch, walking across the land, dropped her cargo of huge stones from her apron (Ireland’s Ancient East 2018; see Sliabh na Callighe (Mountains of the Witch). Actually, very similar story is known on Gozo Island in Malta, where the giantess Sansuna is said to have built the temple Ggantija – the Place of Giants, carrying huge stones upon one of her shoulders or in an apron four kilometres to their current resting place (Newman 2016). On her way, likewise the Loughcrew witch, she dropped some of the stones (Ibid.). One of them is called Sansuna’s Dolmen and it is located exactly one kilometre south-east of the Ggantija temple (Ibid.) (see Sleeping Beauty of the Underworld).

Situated in the Golden Heights, south of Damascus, there is another giant’s tomb, however, of an outstanding shape (Hamilton-Brown 1990s; “Rujm el-Hiri” 2022). It is called Rujm el-Hiri or Gilgal Refaim (from Hebrew, Giant’s Circle of Stones) and it is an ancient megalithic construction consisting of an estimated four thousand tons of loose rocks of huge and various sizes, which makes it another cyclopean construction (Hamilton-Brown 1990s; “Rujm el-Hiri” 2022). The stones form concentric circles, with a tumulus at its centre (Hamilton-Brown 1990s; “Rujm el-Hiri” 2022). It is dated to around 3000–2700 BCE BC. (“Rujm el-Hiri” 2022). Like the other giant’s tombs, Rujm el-Hiri is also strongly associated with the race of giants, yet in this case it is not only a folk story but the biblical narrative that supports that (Hamilton-Brown 1990s). An Israeli archaeologist, Daniel Herman, claims that the tomb must have been dedicated to someone really powerful as its construction should have taken an enormous amount of time and effort (Ibid.). When Israelites came to this area, the tomb had already been there and they documented the identification of the site by saying that this region had been ruled by Og, the king of the Basham (Ibid.). The Bible mentions that king in Deuteronomy 3:11: “For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants […]” (Ibid.)

Hebrew Wikipedia (2007). Gilgal Refā’īm is an ancient megalithic monument in the Golan Heights (Early Bronze Age II, 3000–2700 BC.). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo modified. In “Rujm el-Hiri” (2022). Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

I do not know if the giant buried in Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb was one of those mentioned in the Bible. Maybe … However, the world’s ancient tradition of giants is extremely rich, especially in the British Isles and in Ireland. Similar folk stories, some extremely attractive, and especially the connection of the race of giants with megalithic constructions, are now taken with a pinch of salt, especially among archaeologists. Today, mostly tourists are likely to listen to such tales, who, usually indulged amid the sounds of Irish music, are sipping beer in pubs. Yet, the stories of giants and their beds resound with a deep note of melancholy, especially for those who are longing for the unknown past. Actually, despite further archaeological research to reveal the truth about prehistoric megalithic structures, such as the Ballyedmunduff Wedge Tomb, their secrets continue to persist and stimulate the human imagination.

Article based on research conducted on site of Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb by Maurice McGuire, Joanna Pyrgies, Susan Ryan (2017). Survey of Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb (‘Giant’s Grave’). University College Dublin.

Featured image: There are at least two giant’s tombs near Dublin, one of which is known as Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb. Although it is referred to as a Giant’s Grave, there is no known local folklore of a giant or giants linked to this site. Photo by Maurice McGuire. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.


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Cody, E. (2002) ‘Survey of Megalithic Tombs of Ireland’.  Vol. 6.  Dublin: Stationery Service.

Cubeddu, F. (2011). “Aerial view of the Giant’s grave of Sa Domu ‘e S’Orcu in Sardinia”. CC BY-SA 4.0., in “Giants’ grave”, in Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. [Accessed 17th April, 2022]. Available from: https://bit.ly/3vlqLDT.

Dempsey, J. (2008) ‘Proleek portal tomb’, Megalithic Ireland.  [Online].  [Accessed 22nd January 2019]. Available from: https://bit.ly/2HsmKI2.

De Valéra, R. and Ó Nuallain, S. (1961-1989) ‘Survey of Megalithic Tombs of Ireland’, Vol. 1-5. Dublin: Stationery Service.

De Valera, R., Ó Nuallain, S. (1982). Survey of the megalithic tombs of Ireland, vol. IV: Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary. Stationery Office, Dublin.

De Valéra, R. and Ó Nuallain, S. (1961-1989) ‘Survey of Megalithic Tombs of Ireland’, Vol. 1-5. Dublin: Stationery Service.

Evans, E. E. (1938) ‘Giant’s Graves’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 1.

Frazer, W. (1895) ‘On cup-markings on megalithic monuments due to echinus lividus’, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 64-71, published by Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

Goldbaum, H. (2010-2019) Burren Forest Giant’s Grave. Burren Forest Park, Co. Cavan. [Online]. [Accessed 22 January 2019].  Available from: https://bit.ly/2HssBNl.

Hamilton-Brown, A. (1990s). Giants. TLC: The Learning Channel, MM Discovery Communications Inc.

Ireland’s Ancient East (2018). “Loughcrew Cairns”. In: Ireland’s Ancient East. Available at <https://bit.ly/2PeJ9en>. [Accessed on 2nd Dec., 2018].

Johnson, H. (1998) ‘The Giant’s Grave’, Personal interview.  [Online].  [Accessed 29 January 2019].  Available from: https://voicesfromthedawn.com/burren-giants-grave/

Kaulins, A. (2003)Stars, stones and scholars: the decipherment of the megaliths.  Stanford University: Trafford Publishing.

Loi, M.P. (2017) ‘True Legends: Holocaust of giants’.  USA: GenSix Productions.  [Online]. [Accessed 13 January 2019].  Available from https://bit.ly/2tfeQI4

Lomsdalen, T. (2014) Sky and Purpose in Prehistoric Malta: Sun, Moon, and Stars at the Temples of Mnajdra. Sophia Centre Master Monographs, University of Wales Trinity Saint David: Wales.

McGuire, M. Pyrgies, J. Ryan, S. (2017). Survey of Ballyedmonduff Wedge Tomb (‘Giant’s Grave’). University College Dublin.

National Monuments Service (NMS) Website. [Online] [Accessed 22 January 2019].  Available from: http://www.archaeology.ie

Newman, H. (2016) “Sansuna Dolmen: Alignment of the Giants in Ancient Gozo & Malta”. In: Megalithomania. Available at <https://bit.ly/2QbVhhT>. [Accessed on 2nd Dec., 2018].

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Powell, P. I. (2012) ‘Of druid’s altars and giant’s graves- the megalithic tombs of Ireland.  Ireland: CreateSpace Independent Publishing.

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Walsh, P. (1995) ‘Structure and deposition in Irish wedge tombs: an open and shut case’. In: Waddell, J. and Shee Twohig, J. (eds), Ireland in the Bronze Age. Proceedings of the Dublin Conference, April 1995, pp. 113-27. Stationery Office: Dublin.


White Idols from the Cycladic Islands of the Aegean

It was supposed to be a high-speed ferry ride from Crete (Heraklion Port) to Santorini (Thera), which usually takes around two hours. In our case, the estimated time was disrupted by a sudden storm that broke out at sea. Raging waves ruthlessly played with our boat throughout the whole sea crossing. People were swinging on their feet or wading across the deck of the ferry, which was dangerously shaken in its foundations, together with tearing the screens off the walls. Passengers felt as if they had been on a roller coaster, with their stomach approaching the throat. The lucky ones managed to get to the toilet on time, primarily still available, and others grabbed the last resort, usually one of the paper bags distributed dispassionately by the crew.

My friend sitting next to me got frozen in fear of another stomach contraction, squeezing the edges of the bag in the fingers. The colours of her face kept changing from pale white to green. In the midst of this collective hysteria, apparently I was the only person who felt well. Maybe yet except for the crew, who looked at me in disbelief.

‘Could I go outside?’, I asked hesitantly. ‘I just can’t handle staying inside’.

It was indeed stuffy inside the ferry; all windows and doors were closed tightly. and the atmosphere became more and more unpleasant due to the sick passengers.

In response to my question, two crew members looked at each other and one of them in turn looked at me asking: ‘Don’t suffer from seasickness?’,
‘It looks like no’, I smiled.

Finally the captain agreed, and after a while I was standing outside, in the crisp sea air, with the rope strongly tied around my waist and firmly attached to the side of the jumping on the waves ferry. The gusts of wind were hitting me with all its force and blowing up the folds of my long and light skirt. The rough sea kept splashing over my face again and again, leaving flecks of salt on my skin and in the long locks of hair, dancing in the breeze.

When we finally got to the port of Santorini, the storm ceased. The sun shone and the earth emanated with an usual peace, as if black clouds never appeared in this area. However, it is known that this volcanic island in particular has experienced the wrath of nature. There was always something happening in Santorini, known in Greek as Thera, and the face of the island has been shaped in equal measure by people and nature (Chabińska-Ilchanka et al. 2015:45).

“As its own archipelago, Santorini encompasses the islands of Thíra, Thirassiá, Asproníssi, Palea Kaméni and Nea Kaméni, which all lie in the southern part of the Cyclades, and are the result of [ancient] volcanic activity” (“Cyclades” 2021). Five thousand years ago, there was a thriving center of Minoan civilization on the archipelago (Chabińska-Ilchanka et al. 2015:45). In mid-two thousand BC., a volcano erupted on Thera, or in fact the entire island blew out, as it had grown out of a volcano (Ibid.:45; see: When Gods Turned against the Minoans). The volcanic eruption destroyed everything, not only the island itself and its closest area, but also had a negative impact on the entire world of that time, including the Minoan culture, for which the volcanic eruption was the beginning of the end (Ibid.:45). The volcano itself collapsed into the abyss of the sea but it did not disappear (Ibid.:45).

After volcanologists monitoring the island, the volcano is going to be reborn and will erupt again in the future (Chabińska-Ilchanka et al. 2015:45). The trace of those dramatic events not only changed the shape of the island, looking now like a crescent, but also made one of the largest calderas in the world, that is to say. the collapsed crater flooded by the waters of the sea (Ibid.:45). It is naturally still active, which may be felt by microseismic activity. At that time, it is possible to observe rings forming on the water. While staying on Satorini, I noticed it once in the morning, while I was reaching for a glass of water on my table. Such a phenomenon is not usually dangerous and does not last long.

In the port, my friend was still recovering from the seasickness. Surely, I did not look too good either; I was covered from head to toe with flecks of sea salt, and my hair for the same reason formed a kind of stiff and disheveled basket on my head. Additionally, it turned out that the car sent by the hotel did not show up to pick us up from the port. Fortunately, several taxis and buses were waiting for the visitors, and one of the drivers offered to take two emaciated travelers, because our hotel was on his way. He did not take a cent from us. It was probably because we looked like two poor relatives who had managed to finally save enough to go on holidays.

Towns and villages on Santorini are all like taken from postcards. The town of Pyrgos, built at the foot of Mount Profitis Ilias and in the center of hinterland, is one of the hidden gems of Santorini. Life there seems slower and more relaxing. It is also a fantastic place for taking beautiful pictures. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The towns and villages of the main island are trully picturesque: the former capital of Santorini, Pyrgos, inland (the city’s name sounds almost like my surname, and so my origins may be possibly traced to Greece), seaside Oia in the north or Fira, the charming capital of the island (Chabińska-Ilchanka et al. 2015:45). Although Pyrgos is situated almost in the central island, like most towns on Santorini, it is built up the hill so it is still possible to observe the sea from its highest parts.

Among other things, Oia and Fira are famous for the fact that their buildings descend along the steep shore built by the volcanic eruption almost to the surface of the sea (Chabińska-Ilchanka et al. 2015:45). The buildings of the insular towns look like cubist paintings hung on the deep blue canvas of the sea and the sky (Ibid.:45). The landscape is composed of bright, regular blocks of houses and countless outbuildings, blue domed roofs, miniature terraces, stairs, steps, squares and streets (Ibid.:45). And all this is clustered on small areas, around the hills or cliffs, as if glued together (Ibid.:45). In this picturesque maze, holidaymakers can wander for hours, stepping into tiny galleries, museums, jewelry stores, boutiques and romantic cafes or wine bars (Ibid.:45). The white dry wine produced in Santorini tastes especially good, which is usually chosen by food connoisseurs to go with seafood dishes (Ibid.:45). On the other side, lunch or dinner in a tavern on the cliff, overlooking the endless blue of the sea with the spots of scattered islands, is a pure pleasure (Ibid.:45).

Early forms of the Cycladic idols in the form of a violin. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Fira. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
One of a typical female idols of the Cycladic culture in the Archaeological Museum of Thera, Fira. It represents a possibly pregnant woman with her arms under the breast. The features of the face are invisible. The most intriguing is an oval and elongated head. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

From the south of the island, where we were staying, we drove to Fira by a hired car, where we got after a quarter of an hour. Actually, it is a very tiny island. First, we went to the port hugged to the rock face, and from there we climbed to the top of the two hundred meter volcanic cliff on which the city was built (Chabińska-Ilchanka et al. 2015:45). You can get there on the back of a donkey or on foot along the paved path, as we did (Ibid.:45). The two must-see sights in Fira were definitely the Archaeological Museum of Thera and the Museum of Prehistoric Thira. While most of the Minoan frescoes excavated in Akrotiri (the Minoan town destroyed by the volcano) are preserved by the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, they two also boast impressive collections of artifacts found on the island throughout its cultural development, starting from Prehistory. Apart from being one of the center (or an important colony) of the Minoan civilization, the island also housed the so-called Cycladic culture, having developed around the third millennium BC. (the period of Late Neolithic and Bronze Age). Its main objects of art are Cycladic marble figurines, also known as Cycladic idols.

Group of three figurines, early Spedos type, Keros-Syros culture (EC II). Photo by Smial (2006). CC BY-SA 2.5. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Cycladic art” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Idols are objects of art typical of various prehistoric and ancient cultures, particularly from the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, such as figurines of Venus, various representations of Neolithic goddesses, like the Cypriot Idol of Pomos, or more abstract depictions, including bronze discs from Cappadocia (PWN 2007:156). Most outstanding idols, however, come from the Cycladic culture in the Aegean Sea (Ibid.:156). The turn of the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age is a period of rapid development of settlement, trade and many other areas of life (Rutkowski 2009:7). During this period, the most interesting art depicting idols, apart from Crete, comes from the Cycladic islands, whose influences also reached the Minoan civilization (Ibid.:7). The Cyclades belonged in the Bronze Age (from 3000 BC.) to the circle of Aegean cultures (Barucki et al. 2009:170). They constitute the Aegean archipelago of thirty-one islands around the sacred island of Delos, where Apollo and Artemis were born. Hence their name ‘cyclic’ (“Cyclades” 2020).

The largest Cycladic island of all is Naxos, Apart from them, there are also Syros, Santorini, Mykonos, Amorgos, Paros and Antiparos (“Cyclades” 2020). The residential buildings on the Cyclades, except for Thera, are poorly known (Barucki et al. 2009:170). Moreover, the art having developed there was, in comparison to Crete and mainland Greece, of a peripheral character, and many of their products refer to the Minoan art and its famous frescoes (Ibid.:170). In addition to the Minoan Thera, valuable frescoes have been also found on Melos (Filakopi) (Ibid.:170). On the other side, the Cyclades equally produced original and unique of the archipelago works of art, with which this region of the world is now clearly associated (Barucki et al. 2009:170; Rutkowski 2009:7-9).

Together with my friend, who is a historian of art, we came to the island of Santorini to continue our research on the Minoan culture, which we had alrady started on Crete. Our aim was thus to describe the archaeological site of Akrotiri and Minoan artifacts exhibited by the museums in Fira. Nevertheless, the Cycladic culture seemed to me equally attracting. It developed into successive phases, from the Late Neolithic, throughout the Bronze Age, till circa 1050 BC., and although it is slightly older, the Cycladic culture stays in part chronologically parallel to the Minoan civilisation (3000-1100BC), The Cycladic art flourished north of Crete and for me the archipelago of Santorini constituted a symbolical gateway to the islands’ cycle.

On numerous and usually tiny Cycladic islands, small human figures were massively carved; they usually do not exceed a dozen or so centimetres in height (Rutkowski 2009:7). They were made of clay or stone, but most often of snow-white marble, as in the Cyclades (Paros, Naxos) there are deposits of precious marble, from which vases and figurines were made (Barucki et al. 2009:170). While the Cycladic ceramics usually imitated the forms of stone vessels and statuettes (Ibid.:170).

Head of a female figure, Spedos type, Keros-Syros culture (EC II, 2700–2300 BCE; Louvre). Photo by Unknown artist – Jastrow (2006). Public domain. Image cropped and sharpened. Photo source: “Cycladic art” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

In Cycladic art, the earliest methods of shaping the human figure were limited to the simplest forms, and it was only from those models that the larger plastic compositions developed (Majewski 1935:23). A characteristic early type is composed by the so-called violin idols (Ibid.:25). They have a long neck, a circular part of the arms, and the lower part modelled in the form of a semicircle by a curved waistline (Ibid.:25). By these means, such figurines resemble the shape of a violin, or, as it is also noticed, the outlines of the island of Cyprus. Such examples are also preserved by the museums of Fira,

Other Cycladic idols mostly illustrate highly simplified but still naturalistic figurative representations; they usually show naked women, also pregnant, with arms folded at the waist level, above the belly, or under their breast, like in the case of a marble female figurine from the island of Paros, preserved by the Museum of Louvre in Paris, France (PWN 2007:56; Rutkowski 2009:7-9). It represents a standing woman with arms folded under her breasts, whose body is characterized by a compact form and a synthesizing interpretation of anatomical details, such as the geometric outline of the breast, resembling two pyramids, and the pubic triangle (Rutkowski 2009:9).

Generally, figurines are built on the principle of geometrical parts of the body, usually with an elongated almond-shaped head or one in the form of an upside down triangle, a small, almost rectangular body and usually joined (early examples) or separate legs (PWN 2007:56; Rutkowski 2009:7-9). This is a style that is generally defined as the tendency to synthesize human forms (Barucki et al. 2009:170; Rutkowski 2009:7-9). The Polish researcher, the author of the first monograph on Cycladic art, Kazimierz Majewski (1935), supposes that the mutual relationship of individual parts of the body, i.e. the head, torso and legs, testifies to the application of almost mathematical rules by artists creating these works of fine art (Rutkowski 2009:7,9).

Although only a few figures have traces of polychrome, it is assumed that the natural white surface of the stone, especially the face, was usually enlivened with elements painted with a thick contour line in red; thus the outlines of the eyes and mouth were made (Rutkowski 2009:8-9; Barucki et al. 2009:170). Such a technique may have been also applied to a marble figurine from the Late Bronze Age, found on the island of Amorgos, now in the Museum of Louvre, in Paris (Rutkowski 2009:8). It possibly represents a female head; its schematic almond shape is only identified by an elongated nose (Ibid.:8). The lack of facial features without being underlined by paint gives the sculpture a rather raw expression (Ibid.:8).

It is believed that Cycladic idols may have been related to the sepulchral practices prevailing on the islands, as most of the statuettes come from graves, characteristic of the archipelago, namely of box, tolos and chamber types (Rutkowski 2009:9; Barucki et al. 2009:170).

Pyrgos is the largest and the well-preserved medieval settlement on Santorini, though almost completely omitted by tourists. Thanks to that, the atmosphere in Pyrgos is truly idyllique. This is also why the town offers almost empty mazes of blue-white narrow streets and lanes, sometimes leading under low and long passages. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The figurines placed in the graves of the dead were usually small (Rutkowski 2009:9). However, the Cycladic artist did not abstain from making large human (female) heads and statues reaching a height of about one and a half meters (Ibid.:8-9). Some researchers believe that such large figures were placed in holy places dedicated to the cults of nature deities (Ibid.:9).

The best-known examples of Cycladic art also include male figurines depicting warriors or characters playing musical instruments (Rutkowski 2009:9). The latter group, including the figure of the Harpist of Keos, are distinguished by a much greater degree of detail in their form and equipment (Rutkowski 2009:9;Barucki et al. 2009:170). There are also some examples with visible facial features, like eyes and a mouth, and even few elements of clothes, such as necklaces.

Cycladic idols, of the FAF type below, in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Photo by I, Sailko (2008). CC BY 2.5. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Cycladic art” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

During the period of the greatest development of this type of art, that is, in the third millennium BC. there were many workshops, and the stylistic differences between the statuettes make it possible to distinguish artistic individualists, which are referred to by convention, for example, by the name of private collections (Rutkowski 2009:9). The contemporary interest in Cycladic art is evidenced by the fact that a museum has been established in Athens (opened in October 2019), the core of which is the collection of N.P. Goulandris, collecting mainly figurines of Cycladic masters (Ibid.:9). But the admiration for this field of fine arts dates back to the time when in the early twentieth century, artists such as Pablo Picasso or Hans Arp looked for inspiration to express the ‘new’ in form, yet modeled on the works of primitive and ancient art, in which there was a tendency of synthesizing natural forms (Ibid.:9). Thus, in the art of the early Bronze Age, there were achievements that are still valid and admired to this day (Ibid.:9).

We still travelled around Santorini, enjoying its natural though dangerous beauty, which for ages has ideally mingled with the manmade constructions, scattered around the island. Leaving the coast behind, we headed off towards the centre of the island with its charming town, Pyrgos. At each step, apart from numerous traces left by the Minoans, there were tell-tales of the white marble idols. Sometimes, a copy of some sculpture was crouching in front of the door of somebody’s house, another time the idols were sold in souvenir shops for tourists. They all keep welcoming and inviting deeper inside their sacred cyclic kingdom of the tiny islands, dancing on the turquoise waves of the Aegean Sea. … And I have accepted their invitation.

Featured image: In the wide expanse of the Blue Aegean Sea, a group of islands of Santorini stands out in a Greek archipelago. Copyright©Archaeotravel. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.


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Barucki T. et al. (2009). “Cykladzka sztuka”. In: Sztuka świata. Leksykon A-K, tom 12. [Historia del Arte, vol. 12]. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Arkady.

Chabińska-Ilchanka, E., Dylewska K., Horecka K., Jaskulski M., Kastelik M. M., Łatka M., Ressel E., Willman A., Żywczak K. (2015) Niezwykłe miejsca świata. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo SBM Sp. zo.o.

Majewski K. (1935). “Figuralna plastyka cykladzka. Geneza i rozwój form”. In: Archiwum Towarzystwa Naukowego we Lwowie, Section I, Volume VI, Book 3. Drukarnia Naukowa we Lwowie.

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 156. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Rutkowski B. (2009). “Sztuka mykeńska i minojska”. In: Sztuka świata, tom. 2 [Historia del Arte, vol. 2]. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Arkady.

On the Road from Lycia to Ancient Caunus in Caria.

Saklikent Gorge in Lycian Turkey turned out to be just the beginning of water attractions on our holidays (see:). Many more were waiting for us just at the threshold to another ancient region of Anatolia, which is known as Caria.

Through the gateway to Caria. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Mud baths, Turtle Beach and ancient ruins

One day we travelled from Fethiye for a river cruise to Turtle Beach (Iztuzu Beach), which is situated on the Dalyan coast, already outside the historic Lycia. The natural beauty of the Dalyan delta belongs to another region, which is known as Caria. Nevertheless, various meanders of history leave monuments outside their home country, as it happened in the case of Lycian tombs, scattered also in neighbouring Caria. One of the greatest ancient cities of that region, Caunus (modern area of Dalyan), which was populated by the nation that did not have either the Lycian or Carian origins, witnessed a changeable history of the both countries, and once even found itself within the Lycian borders (see Bean, v.3 1989:142-145). As such the region equally absorbed the way of designing contemporary sepulchral architecture, typical of Lycia but having been strongly influenced by Greece. And although today the Caunus tombs are a well-known tourist attraction, the region of Caria is mostly famous for another tomb belonging to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient Word (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:14-15). It was the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum), which while was built by Carians, it mostly adopted a Hellenized architectural style (Ibid.:14-15). Unfortunately, it was eventually destroyed during the Middle Ages in earthquakes (Ibid.:14-15).

Most common way to admire the Lycian tombs in Caunus today is to take a boat cruise along the Dalyan River. Like most Lycian tombs (temple and house-tombs), those in Caunus are also carved high in the rock and there is, of course, a possibility to climb up the cliff and examine the tombs closer. Yet, as I was accompanied by less ambitious researchers, I had to limit my curiosity of the monuments to their observation from the River. On the other side, the most important must see (or rather do) for my companions was to plunge in the mud and thermal springs, sunbath on one of the most beautiful beaches in Turkey, the Turtle Beach, and – as its name suggests, look there for sea turtles.

Among celebrities taking a bath in the mud

First the boat took us to the mud and sulfur pools, which are known to give a beautifying effect on the skin (Kaynak 2021). They are situated on the far side of Köyceğiz Lake and attract loads of tourists posing in front of a camera after getting into the mud (Ibid.). As a matter of fact, Dalyan’s mud baths have always been very popular, also among modern Hollywood celebrities (Ibid.). It is even believed that Cleopatra herself would have travelled there to take pleasure by mud bathing (Ibid.), supposedly when she was bored with swimming in milk. Actually, it may not have necessarily been that Cleopatra (there were other ladies bearing the same name in history of the region). Still, it is a prefect advertisement for the site as the Spa for famous queens, especially those known in history for their beauty and sexual appeal. Following Cleopatra’s example, we also covered ourselves in soft and sticky liquid earth, and while waiting for it to dry in the sun, we kept taking photos. It was equally fun to plunge in one of the sulphur pools of a temperature of around forty degrees to clean from the mud (Ibid.). Such a bath, although very pleasant for skin, is not definitely perfect for your nose. It smells just like rotten eggs!

Finally, we were ready to re-take our trip by the River Dalyan; it flew us further along its winding route from Lake Köyceğiz to Dalyan Village, offering on the way a scenic views of pine-clad valleys, its various wildlife and white, rocky cliffs suspended above with the ancient ruins of the Lycian tombs.

Through the gateway to Caria

Before pouring into the Mediterranean Sea, the River brought us to the place from where a rocky cliff rises. It is clustered with the most eye-catching feature of the site: the rock-cut tombs of the ancient city of Caunus (Bean, v.3 1989:146). The city itself is located nearby the necropolis, with its acropolis on the notable crag, south of the rows of the tombs (Ibid.:146-148).

Long walls of Caunus are still visible and impressive; they stretched once from its ancient harbour, which is now a small lake, high up above the river to the precipice of the cliff (Bean, v.3 1989:140-141, 147-148). The site is now over three kilometres from the sea and so accumulated ground is not firm but composed of some soil held by reeds (Ibid.:139-140, 145). It in turn makes a vivid impression as if the solid cliff was floating on a green carpet, unrolled by the river. The ruins are most easily reached by land, passing by a modern Village of Dalyan (Ibid.:146). It is also possible to get there by boat from Köyceğiz Lake (Ibid.:146) but, unfortunately, it was not included in our itinerary.

The tombs seen from Dalyan River

When we were approaching in our boat to the site, I instinctively I pulled out my camera and took some photos of a series of temple-tombs emerging from above the river’s reeds. Then I zoomed the view out, which turned out to be extremely helpful from our position on the River, and then I looked closely at the monuments’ details.

Before pouring into the Mediterranean Sea, the River brought us to the place from where a rocky cliff rises. It is clustered with the most eye-catching feature of the site: the rock-cut tombs of the ancient city of Caunus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The tombs are carved in two uneven rows, of which the upper one is composed of typical Lycian temple-tombs and the lower features much simpler and randomly distributed chambers with squared openings (Bean, v.3 1989:146-147). Like in the case of the tombs in Telmessus (Fethiye) or Tlos, some of the monuments, especially the upper ones with a stone passage cut around them, can be reached easier; whereas those in the row below are less accessible (Ibid.:147). I could notice six temple-tombs on the whole but such a number is only included within the first of the five tomb clusters of Caunus that we had just approached on the boat (Ibid.:147-148).

The tombs are carved in two uneven rows, of which the upper one is composed of typical Lycian temple-tombs and the lower features much simpler and randomly distributed chambers with squared openings. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The four of them, located on the western side of the cliff, barely compose a separate group (Bean, v.3 1989:147). They all  have in their façade two Ionic columns in antis, which are now in most cases partly broken away, and a dentil frieze with a usually undecorated pediment above, featuring acroteria at each of its three corners (Ibid.:147). Only one of the four pediments is carved with reliefs, representing two lions facing each other from the two opposite sides of the fronton (Ibid.:147), nearly with the same refinement as the pair of animals from the Lion Gate in Mycenae (southern Greece). Of course, I could not discern those from below but I rely here on a description by an archaeologist I often refer to in this article, George E. Bean (v.3 1989:146-148).

Such tombs have been dated back to the fourth century B.C., as much as the temple-tombs in Lycia (Bean, v.3 1989:147). Bean (1989:147) also writes that behind the façade of each tomb, there is only a single small funerary chamber, typically with three stone benches for the deposition of the corpses. The three of the tombs also bear inscriptions; although some include Carian words suggesting they are original, other writing is of a later date and so it indicates a re-use of the tombs by the Romans (Ibid.:147). What is more, two of the inscriptions on adjacent tombs claim them for the same three dead (Ibid.:147).

Unfinished tomb

Looking eastwards of the group of the described tombs, there is another one composed of two more monuments carved in the rock, one of which is slightly protruding forwards, against the previous four tombs (Bean, v.3 1989:147). Actually, that group, which is situated closest to Dalyan Village, had grabbed my attention first, especially the tomb on the left side (Ibid.:147). It was not only because it is the most impressive in size of all but also due to the fact it has remained visibly unfinished (Ibid.:147).

By these means, it also helps to understand how such tombs were once constructed, or rather cut out from the rockface (Bean, v.3 1989:147). While the upper parts of it, including the roof with the pediment and the frieze are almost completely carved out, the outlines of the upper shafts of the four columns in antis, together with their capitals, are still imprisoned in squared block of the rock and so look more like pilasters than columns (Ibid.:147). Then, the lower, the less notable is the progress of works; below the upper parts of the columns, the construction is just limited to smoothing and polishing the rockface (Ibid.:147). Accordingly, as it is mentioned above, carving such tombs out of the rock proceeded from up down (Bean, v.3 1989:147; Ching et al. 2010:173). Simultaneously, a much smaller tomb, hidden below in the rock on the right-side of the unfinished monument, is more similar to those from the previous group but far more disfigured, being almost completely deprived of both, its portico or the left part of the roof.

Carian type

Finally, as our boat was slowly moving forward, I noticed another group located a few metres away west from the previous one. It is also composed of less or more preserved smaller temple-tombs above some squared or round openings, looking like pigeon holes (Bean, v.3 1989:147).

At that moment, our boat unfortunately turned away from the soaring cliff with the tombs, heading off to the sea. Although I could not see more the rock-cut monuments from the distance, I know that there are two more clusters of similar type along the cliff-face, and at the most western point of the series, there is a group of tombs, whose style unexpectedly change (Bean, v.3 1989:147). They are called Carian type of tombs and they look like grave-pits cut deep into the solid rock and covered with separate and heavy lids (Ibid.:147). Additionally, they are provided with a group of tiny niches, where votive offerings for the dead were once deposed (Ibid.:147).

Who were the Caunians?

History of the city of Caunus and its inhabitants is as complicated as the described above story of Lycia. Herodotus writes that it was thought the Caunians, like the Lycians, had originated from Crete (Bean, v.3 1989:142). Yet, the ancient historian denies such a belief, claiming they must have been indigenous to their land (Ibid.:142). Judging from their unusual customs and language, which was assimilated to Carian or the other way round, Herodotus strongly differentiates Caunians from both, the Carians and Lycians (Ibid.:142). Simultaneously, Herodotus records that ‘the Caunians imitated the Lycians for the most part’, especially in the way they faced their city’s invaders and fought for freedom (Ibid.:142).

A deep river Calbis (modern-day Dalyan River) probably held the acropolis at its mouth. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

From preserved, though fragmentary records, it is also known that in the Lycian city of Xanthus, there was apparently a cult of a legendary king Caunus, the son of Miletus, who was believed to have founded the city of his name, and although he is said today to be just a fictious character, a memory of such a king had lasted in Caunus till the Roman times Crete (Bean, v.3 1989:142). Simultaneously, the triangular stele from Xanthus says that the Lycians from the city and its surroundings built an altar dedicated to the hero, approximately, in the fourth century BC. (Ibid.:142). Another trace of the hero-king, memory of whom is now covered by the ancient ruins, is the proverbial expression of a ‘Caunian love’, apparently coined in memory of a sad love story (Ibid.:142). Legend has it that Caunus’ sister, named Byblis, loved his brother so passionately that she hanged herself when he left her (Ibid.:142). In Caria, such incestuous relationships were normal and really happened among the royal families in Caria, as much as in other countries of the ancient world. Unfortunately, today it is little known about the hero, whose name is not either mentioned too often by scholars, studying the region (Ibid.:142). Is it Caunus’ punishment for having rejected the woman in love?

How mosquitos made Caunus unpopular

Even though, the sea stretched to the land in antiquity, there still were large areas of marshes, which made the region known as highly unhealthy due to recurring malaria (Bean, v.3 1989:139-140). At the same time, the land of Caunus was very fruitful and bore various fruits, such as figs, which were broadly famous in those days (Ibid.:140). Surely, the Caunians had their fishery as it existed not so long ago opposite the modern Village of Dalyan (Ibid.:141).

Strabo writes the city had got its harbour closed with a chain and dockyards (Bean, v.3 1989::140). Gracefully flowing by, a deep river Calbis (modern-day Dalyan River) probably held the acropolis at its mouth (Ibid.:140-141). According to the records, the River was also provided with a navigable channel from (Köyceğiz) Lake towards the sea (Ibid.:140-141). High above, on the crag, the fort Imbrus was constructed (Ibid.:140-141). Such a description can be easily identified with the modern region of Dalyan, though its landscape has definitely changed throughout ages (Ibid.:140-141). 

Making long history short

In ancient times, Caunus was described as a Carian city, despite its ethnic and cultural distinctions (Bean, v.3 1989:141-142). In the sixth century BC.. the Persian army invaded Lycia and Caria, including Caunus (Ibid.:142). In the following century, after the failure of the Persian invasion of Greece, Caunus was included in the Delian Confederacy (Ibid.:142-143). Following the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC.), in 387 BC., the coast with Caunus fell again under the domination of the Achaemenid Empire (Ibid.:143). At that time, Caria was ruled by a Persian satrap but a native descendant of Caria rulers, Mausolus (377–353 BC), whose policy made the region strongly Hellenized (Ibid.:143). It was also him, who initiated the project of one of famous constructions, known later as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:14-15). Namely, it was the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, also called after Mausolus, the Mausoleum. It was built between 353 and 350 BC. and was unfortunately destroyed in the course of earthquakes, between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries (Ibid.:14-15). Nevertheless, its name has survived as a present-day term describing an impressive building housing a tomb, a mausoleum (Ibid.:14-15).

Beautiful views offered by a trip by boat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Coming back to Caunus, during Alexander the Great’s campaign in 334 BC. together with the whole region it was possibly handed over to Ada of Caria, a sister and a successor of Mausolus (Bean, v.3 1989:143; see: Weapons and Warfare 2018).  After Alexander’s death (323 BC.), the city continuously changed its rulers among the king’s heirs (Ibid.:143-144). Eventually, around 190 BC., Caunus was bought by the Rhodians from the generals of Ptolemy (Ibid.:144). It just happened one year before Caria and Lycia were also joined to Rhodes by the Romans, as a result of the Battle of Magnesia in 189 BC. (Ibid.:144). Those lands had been the Rhodians’ possession between 189 and 167 BC., until the Province of Asia was established by the Roman Empire in 129 BC. (Ibid.:144). Soon after, Caunus became a part of Lycia but in 85 BC., the Romans gave it back to Rhodes due to the fact Caunus had harshly acted in favour of the opponents of Rome (Ibid.:144).

On the whole, Hellenistic times seemed quite unpredictable; cities and countries were juggled in the hands of the contemporary powers (Bean, v.3 1989:145). The situation had not changed much in the Roman times; accordingly, Caunus was once recorded as a free city, another time as undergoing double servitude to Rome and Rhodes (70 AD.) (Ibid.:144-145). By that time, Caunus had already been a fully Hellenized city, which was likely to have forgotten its Carian origins, although it had never been truly colonised by Greece (Ibid.:143-144). Additionally, the trade of Caunus and of other cities in the region located along the coast, had greatly suffered from the silting process separating the cities from the sea by over three kilometres (Ibid.:145-146). Adding the fact that the city was infamous for its unhealthful location, it did not generally attract visitors’ attention or enjoy popularity among philosophers, who usually accused the Caunians of being foolish and so deserving their misfortunes (Ibid.:139-140,145).

Along the River Dalyan. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Not without a surprise, the situation has entirely changed now; every day, tourists from all over the world come to see the archaeological site, either drawn by a natural beauty of the region, where the sea and river meet or the ruins, nearby which they can take a mud bath. Above all, they all come for the ever-present sun.

Goodbye to Caunus

İztuzu Beach (Turtle Beach) stretches for almost five metres and it is the place where navy blue waves of the Mediterranean meet more turquoise waters of the Aegean. It is situated near Dalyan and for its beauty, it attracts every day great numbers of tourists, who usually enjoy sunbathing and swimming in the warm sea for hours. It is also one of the main areas in the Mediterranean, where loggerhead sea turtles, called Caretta Caretta breed and so there is a chance to encounter them while dragging their shelled bodies on the sand. Personally, I doubted it that turtles would have come out of hiding when there were hordes of people screaming and looking for some to see. Moreover, the species is under a strict protection.

Nevertheless, it was fun to see my little cousins carefully following the turtles’ traces in the sand; knowing they must be very cautious, they patiently kept observing sand holes where the turtles may have laid their eggs. Those, however, had already been abandoned.

After taking a swim in the sea, I was laying in the shadow and looking through the archaeological guide-book I had brought with me for my journey along Lycia and Caria. Its author, the archaeologist George E. Bean helped me to learn about the history of the regions beforehand and understand more about their architecture by comparing his description to what I had found on place. And although I was unable to reach every single corner of each tomb I met on my way, I complemented my own observations with the author’s notes.

The Turtle Beach, where navy blue waves of the Mediterranean meet more turquoise waters of the Aegean. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

When the sun started getting reddish and the sea waters darkened on the horizon, I knew our stay in Caria was almost over. It was high time to come back to Fethiye. Yet, I was happy I could again see the tombs of Caunus on our way back along the River. And what about you? Do you also enjoy this kind of sepulchral architecture?

Featured image: The remains of ancient Caunus in Dalyan (Caria), with its most distinctive landmarks: Lycian rock-cut tombs encrusting high and steep cliffs. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.


Bean G. E. (1989). Lycian Turkey. An Archaeological Guide, Vol. 4. London: John Murray Publishers.

Bean G. E. (1989). Turkey Beyond the Meander. An Archaeological Guide, Vol. 3. London: John Murray Publishers.

Ching F. D.K., Jarzombek M. M., Prakash V. (2010). A Global History of Architecture. USA: Wiley Publishing. The Second Edition.

Kaynak (2021) “Dalyan Mud Baths”. Available at <https://bit.ly/3sTDcmZ>. [Accessed on 27th April, 2021].

Starozytne Cywilizacje (2007). “Siedem cudów śwata. Starożytne wspaniałości.” In: Starozytne Cywilizacje. MMX International Masters Publishers AB.

Weapons and Warfare (2018). “Ada of Caria”. In: Weapons and Warfare. History and Hardware of Warfare.