The ancient site of Xanthos, modern Kinik, lies 63 km south-east of the well-known tourist resort of Fethiye, on a hillside overlooking the Eṣen River in the Xanthos Valley, surrounded by the Taurus Mountains. Xanthos, meaning yellow, administered the sacred Letoon cult center 8 km to the south.
Homer mentions Sarpedon, founder of Xanthos, as an ally of the Trojans during the Trojan War. In 540 BCE Xanthos resorted to desperate measures when faced with an overwhelming force of Persian invaders sent by Cyrus the Great. After an initial defeat when the outcome was inevitable, the men of Xanthos burned up their material possessions, women, children and slaves on the acropolis and then sallied forth in a suicidal attack to kill as many Persians as possible. The entire population of Xanthos perished except for 80 families who happened to be absent and returned to gradually repopulate the city.
Probably fire destroyed the wooden tombs and temples of Xanthos again in about 470 BCE, when Cimon of Athens attacked the city to retaliate for the earlier destruction of the Athenian Acropolis by the Persians and their Lycian allies. The Xanthians rebuilt the city in stone, established the temple of Artemis and defeated the Athenians in the next round of fighting. In 390 BCE the Lycian King Arbinas asserted control over Lycia, ruled from Xanthos, built the famous Nereid Monument as his tomb, and died in 370 BCE.
Xanthos surrendered to Alexander the Great in 334 BCE. In 42 BCE Brutus, the assassin of Julius Caesar, came to Lycia to extort funds for his campaigns against Augustus and Antony. The Lycian League refused to contribute but was no match for the Romans. Brutus besieged Xanthos and the same gruesome history was repeated when the city refused to surrender, only 150 Xanthian men survived the carnage. Xanthos recovered and resumed its role as the leading Lycian city in the Roman Empire. Xanthos was finally deserted after waves of Arab raids during the 7th century AD.
A modern road runs through the two separate sites of Xanthos. To the west of the road stands the 2nd century AD Roman theatre, originally with seats for 2200 spectators. The upper rows of the cavea are missing and the stage building is only partially standing. South of the theatre is the original 8th century BCE Lycian acropolis with foundations of a square building destroyed at the time of the Persian capture and mass suicide in 540 BCE. Higher up to the west are the scanty remains of a temple of Artemis; which probably contained the shrine dedicated to Sarpedon.
To the west of the theatre are three dramatic tombs close together. Furthest south is the 1st century AD Roman pillar tomb. Adjacent to the north is the 4th century BCE Lycian pillar tomb supporting a sarcophagus (3,6 m high) with a pointed arch on top of a pillar made of stone blocks.
The third is the famous Harpy Tomb (8,9 m high) dating back to 480-470 BCE, given its name by the British Archaeologist Sir Charles Fellows in 1838. The Harpy Tomb is a single monolithic column rising more than 5 m high set upon a two-stepped podium. The grave chamber was at the top of the column. Its reliefs depict the deceased in battle, and separately a man and his wife receiving homage from their children. On all four sides seated figures receive gifts. On the south and east sides are birds; on the north side a helmet and on the west side are two seated females, three standing figures approach the one to the right, the other receives an indistinct object. On the east side are three other female figures, one apparently accompanied by a dog. The figures Sir Charles Fellows misidentified as Harpies are on the north and south sides on either side of the seated figures. They are bird-women with female heads, wings and tails, carrying children in their arms. These winged females are sirens, bird-women who carry the souls of the dead, in the form of children, to the Isles of the Blessed. The seated figures are members of the ruling family. Crosses were painted on the back of the reliefs, suggesting that a Christian hermit once used the grave-chamber as a refuge. Concrete reproductions stand in place of the original, which is at the British Museum in London.
To the north-east of the Xanthos agora along the road is the Inscribed Pillar, a 5th century BCE house tomb with reliefs, which recount the life of King Kerei in Lycian and Greek. He fought for Lycian independence from Athens during the Peloponnesian War. This monument is famous because it is the longest Lycian inscription known, over 250 lines of text. The grave chamber of this monument is now at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Across the modern road from the theatre is an excavated late Roman street, once lined with shops on both sides. To the south-east of that road are remains of a late Roman basilica with mosaics. To the south is the famous Nereid monument, actually the tomb of King Arbinas built in 380 BCE. The monument contains friezes of Greeks in battle with barbarians, and hunting scenes. Arbinas was a 4th century BCE Lycian ruler who first built the temple of Leto, the Letoon. The name Nereid derives from the female Nereids or sea nymphs appearing between the Ionic columns. The main Nereid monument can be seen today at the British Museum in London, here only the monument base remains are in situ.
To the south-east is the Hellenistic gateway to Xanthos, built during the period when Macedonian Seleucid King Antiochus III ruled the city. The 1st century AD Vespasian Gate stands north-west of the Hellenistic Gate directly along the modern road. That gate was the main entrance to Xanthos and the starting point for the sacred road to Letoon, 8 km away. Further to the north-east lies the Lion Tomb, which depicts scenes of lions and men and dates back to 500-550 BCE.
Xanthos archaeological site is open daily, in summer season (April - October) from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm, and in winter season (November - March) - from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. The admission fee is 10 TL.
Restaurants and cafés are in Kinik.
By car: the ancient site of Xanthos is well-signposted from the modern village of Kinik. Near the site is a car park and a small visitor center annex café where you have to buy an entrance ticket.