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Bafa Lake has been eyewitness to history since before mankind began recording it. This lake in western Turkey was once a bay of the Gulf of Miletus on the Aegean Sea. Cave paintings in the mountains towering above the ancient harbor of Latmos Heraclea have been dated as originating 5000-6000 BC. According to Greek mythology, it was here in these mountains that the moon goddess Selene fell in love with the shepherd Endymion. She asked Zeus to command Endymion into a deep sleep, where she could visit him and ultimately bore him 50 children. Legend says that the mountains overlooking Bafa Lake have hosted cults devoted to the rain and weather gods, fertility and other local deities. In the seventh century and later, the mountains hosted many early Christian monasteries, the ruins of which can still be seen. Latmos was controlled by a succession of conquorers including the Carians, Hittites, Hellenists, Byzantines and Romans before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 13th century. All left bits of their history here, as the harbor was a major trade port off the Aegean Sea and later, part of a main trade route.
The Great Menderes Delta formed over time at the neck of the bay, eventually cutting off Bafa Lake from the Aegean Sea. This occurred during historical times, and the separation was complete during the Roman era. The separation was caused mostly by sedimentation building up from the Menderes River, although some geologists believe an earthquake in 17 AD completed the disconnection. Landlocked Bafa Lake is now about five miles from the sea. This disconnection likely led to the decline of Latmos Heraclea and the other villages around the shoreline. Evolution of the lake has created one of the most prolific birding areas in Europe and has made Bafa Lake an increasingly popular place for visiting naturalists, hikers and tourists wishing to get away from the crowds of Aegean seacoast resorts. In 1994, the Turkish government placed the entire lake and the cultural treasures surrounding it under protection as the 30,300-acre Aydin-Bafa Lake Nature Park.
Also known as Lake Bafa, the lake has no water sports or Riviera-style beaches, although sea-kayaks can sometimes be rented. What it holds is a charming series of guest houses, small hotels and 'pensions', plenty of campsites and excellent local restaurants. Tour boats can be arranged to take visitors to the north shore to visit ancient Latmos Heraclea. Local fishermen, for a small fee, will deliver visitors to the islands to view the ruins of monasteries or to observe nesting birds. Hiking opportunities abound, both rugged rock-climbing and the more genteel trekking along ancient paths of paving stones. A few informal swimming beaches exist, and several of the small hotels have swimming pools. Extensive wetlands along the western shore provide a natural haven for over 200 species of birds, some of which are endangered. Dalmatian pelican, pygmy cormorant, storks, fish eagle, common tern and heron can be found here, along with a number of birds that arrive seasonally. Sixty different varieties of orchids grow in the Lake Bafa area, while small forests of naturally-growing olive trees dot the hillsides.
A fishing cooperative operates commercial fishing on Bafa Lake. Although a freshwater lake, the water is slightly salty and holds a wide variety of fish including Bafa grey mullet, sea bass, sea bream and a famous local variety of eels. The local fishermen declare the eels breed in Mexico, then find their way across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Aegean and up the Menderes (sometimes called the Meander) River to Bafa Lake. The eels are a favored fare at local restaurants. In recent years, fishing has declined due in part to over-fishing: government officials are attempting to increase fish stocks. Even if eels are not one's choice for dinner, the local restaurants offer a wide variety of locally-grown vegetables and fruits, with the local olive oil a prominent ingredient in many dishes. Some farming is performed around the shoreline, using Bafa Lake for irrigation.
Most visitors to Lake Bafa plan for much sight-seeing to the local antiquities. Some of the more popular destinations are: the Carian city of Latmos, Hellenistic Heraclea, Yediler or the Convent of the Seven Brothers, Stylos Monastery and numerous other ruins, city walls and fortresses depending on the departure point. If one has a car available, side trips to other ancient cities or to the coast can be reached within an hour or so. A few of the popular coastal resort cities offer tour buses to Lake Bafa, some of which include a boat tour of the islands or a trip to Latmos Heraclea. Lake Bafa is often considered a refuge of solitude from the busy and sometimes hectic resort activities, a perfect place to relax and catch one's breath. Lake Bafa's popularity is becoming better-known, and private vacation villas are being built around the shoreline. Many real estate advertisements tout building lots and existing properties.
Prior to 1978, Bafa Lake was privately owned and fishing was controlled. After the lake was nationalized, fishing cooperatives formed. Bafa Lake's water has always come from the Menderes River during periods of high rainfall, via a canal and from underground springs. Changes in the landscape such as dams and levees caused by increased agriculture have threatened the lake's very existence. In 1985, an embankment was built to protect cotton fields from the flooding river. As a result, inflows into Bafa Lake were interrupted. Warmer temperatures have caused higher evaporation and less water flowing through the Menderes River. The lake is relatively shallow, with an average depth of less than seven feet. Consequently, the lake began to dry up to the extent that the water level had to be artificially raised in 1990. At present, park officials and private groups are attempting to correct imbalances caused by man-made alterations and more tightly control fishing. If things go as planned, Bafa Lake will be around to witness many more millennia of history. So, get away from the hustle and bustle of the coast and let Lake Bafa's history be a part of your future.
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