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Hızırşah Frescoes

The remains of a Byzantine structure with frescos are located in the mountains of Caria on Datça Peninsula. The site, known in Turkish as Papazın Evi (“Priest’s House”), is just south of the main road between Datça and Knidos. It is located on the northern face of Mount Yarık facing Mount Boz around 3.5 km west of Hızırşah (the likely location of the medieval Byzantine town Stadia). There are also ruins of a Byzantine fortress on Mount Yarık overlooking Datça.

The structure was perhaps the cell of a hermit. It consists of plastered rubble stone walls built in a natural hollow space near the peak of Mount Yarık. The walls are on the northern and western sides of the space, while the frescoes are on the eastern surface of the hollow. Its entrance was on its western wall, while each wall has a single window. The interior measures 4.2 x 3.00 m. The original floor was completely destroyed by illicit excavations, while part of the walls and lower sections of the frescoes were also damaged by vandalism.

The frescoes were painted over plaster with a mixture of straw and sand. The frescoes probably date to the Middle Byzantine era, during the 11th or perhaps the 10th century. Only the upper one third of the composition, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, flanked by four figures, has survived. The rectangular composition has been darkened by a layer of soot, affecting some of the colors of the composition. The background is blue and is framed by a dark blue ban decorated with a string of white pearl dots on its interior.

An enthroned Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child is at the center of the composition. She wears a deep purple veil (maphorion) and, like all of the other figures, she has a yellow halo. She holds Christ Child with her left arm, suggesting it follows the Hodegetria type where she would have pointed to the Child with her right hand. She is seated on a yellowish throne with a back decorated pine cone ornaments and pearls. Above her head is the blessing Hand of God extended down from the heavens above. The inscription Theotokos (Η Θεοτόκος: “The Mother of God”) is on both sides of her halo. Christ Child, whose face is now mostly lost, holds a small codex.

The Virgin Mary is flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Michael on the left and right. Both figures bow slightly towards the Virgin and Child. They have wings with brownish feathers, whitish garments, and inscriptions of their names on the background above them. There are also fragmentary inscriptions in the dark blue ban framing the composition. Gabriel has curly brown hair, while Michael has straight brown hair. The archangel Michael holds a red staff (or scepter) and a scroll (now lost) with an inscription. The figure of Gabriel is much more damaged.

St. Demetrios and St. Polyeuktos are on the far right and far left sides of the composition. There are inscriptions naming each of the saints in the dark blue ban above them, as well as fragmentary inscriptions on the sides of the dark blue ban. Both saints hold long scepters or staffs decorated with crosses. St. Demetrios has short brown hair and no beard, and gestures with his right hand. He is dressed in an imperial court costume with a white background decorated with dark blue-green lilies and golden rhombic patterns, as well as decorations with pearls and gold. St. Polyeuktos is similarly dressed, but his clothing is decorated with red circles. He has short brown hair and a beard.

The structure with frescoes was perhaps a hermit’s cell. Hermits were monks who resided in caves or cells outside a monastery to live a solitary life of prayer and asceticism - though some also remained members of a monastic community.

Drawing of frescoes from Ruggieri & Zaeh

Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child

Archangel Michael and St. Demetrios

St. Polyeuktos and Archangel Gabriel

Details of garments of St. Polyeuktos and St. Demetrios

View of Mount Boz from hermit’s cell on Mount Yarık


Ruggieri, V. & Zaeh, A. Visiting the Byzantine Wall Paintings in Turkey

Özcan, H. “Datça’da Bir Theotokos Meryem Tasviri” (Olba XVIII)

Özcan, H. “Karya Bölgesi Bizans Dönemi Duvar Resimleri Üzerine İncelemeler-2013 ‘Muğla'nın Yatağan, Milas ve Datça İlçelerindeki Çalışmalar’” (Araştırma Sonuçları Toplantıları 32.2)

FHild, F. “Stadia und Tracheia in Karien” (Byzantina Mediterranea: Festschrift für Johannes Koder zum 65. Geburtstag)


Hızırşah Frescoes Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Papazın Evi (Datça Detay)

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