Ancient Sites Around Antalya

Side, Aspendos, Kekova, Myra and Perge
– A daytrip from Antalya

Turkey’s Antalya province, known in antiquity as the region of Pamphylia, is a treasure trove of archaeological sites from Greco-Roman and Lycian times. Pamphylia, which means “land of the tribes,” was sandwiched between the ancient regions of Lycia and Cilicia, causing the area today to be rich in discoveries left by the different civilizations who have left their mark on this beautiful land.

I must confess. I have a penchant for visiting archaeological sites. No matter what the destination, seeing an area’s ancient sites is a top priority on my list.

Why? It has something to do with beauty. The ancients studied and knew this attribute so well and it showed in what they created.

Their appreciation for beauty is reflected in the remains we can still see today – from pottery and jewelry designs to seemingly living sculpture and in the intricate details on their edifices.

Beauty in detail, from the ancient Roman theater at Myra

And that’s something that I admire and appreciate.

Ergo, the Antalya region, with some of the best preserved ruins around, was the perfect area for me to get my fix!

Only there was only one problem – while Antalya is well connected by public transport; the ancient sites are spread out across areas that don’t have good connections between them. This makes it difficult to tackle more than one per day. In order to maximize the limited time I had, I opted to go on a (gasp!) organized group tour.

Did you just shudder? I kind of did.

Usually I find group tours to be a waste of money. And being the Indie Chick, I like to do things on my own to save money and maximize my free time. But in this case, I figured the 65 euro was well spent because it was a full day tour that included five ancient sites, a visit to some waterfalls and a buffet lunch. I was getting the proper bang for my buck!

1. Side  

Our first stop was the cute little resort town of Side (see-day), an influential port and trading center in ancient times. Founded in the 7th century BC by the Greeks, Side grew to be one of the most prosperous places in the Pamphylia region due to it’s geographic location on the sea. As such, control of the town passed through many hands throughout ancient history from Alexander the Great, Ptolemy of Egypt, Hannibal of the Selucid empire, Cilician pirates and finally, to the Romans. Side then became part of the Roman Empire until the town was abandoned in the 12th century CE.

Ruins of the ancient town include an ancient theater, the agora, city walls and remains of colonnaded streets. The most famous attraction, though, is the Temple of Apollo, god of the sun, light, music, truth and healing.

Temple of Apollo, Side

The Temple of Apollo

It is believed that this very temple is the place where Marc Antony met Cleopatra and became so infatuated with her that he presented this temple to her as a symbol of his love and devotion.

The modern town of Side is a cute touristy town, known for its long beaches and seaside cafes. It’s a fun place to walk around for a bit, if you have time.

Side

2. Aspendos Theater

I’ve seen many a Greek and Roman theater in my travels and usually harbor the “seen one, seen them all” mentality about them. But the ancient Roman theater at Aspendos, also a part of ancient Pamphilya, was worth seeing in its own right as it’s the most well persevered theater of the Roman world! Some say in all of antiquity.

Aspendos Theater

Aspendos Theater, photo by SALTOnline

It was built by architect Zeno in the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) and was dedicated to the Emperor and the Gods. With an impressive width of 315 feet, it can seat about 12,000 people.

Today the theater hosts an opera and ballet festival in the summer where you can get a full on experience of what it was like to watch a performance in ancient times.

Manavgat Waterfall

While en route to our next destination, we made a quick stop at the powerful and thunderous Manavgat waterfall. Not much to see here but the fall itself, though. The cool spray from the fall was refreshing and a nice respite from the sun.

Manavgat Waterfall, Turkey

3. Kaleköy & Kekova, the sunken city

Our next stop was the charming fishing village of Kaleköy. The village’s name means “castle village”, aptly named because of the large castle, built by the Knights of Rhodes, that dominates it from hilltop of the village.

Kaleköy, Turkey

The cute fishing village of Kaleköy

Kaleköy

Kaleköy

Kaleköy was the jump off point for our excursion to Kekova, a sunken city, which was also an old fishing village and an outpost for the Knights of Rhodes.

We boarded the boat and on our way passed nondescript ruins that seemed to have been picked up and dropped at different places in the sea.

Ruins in the sea, Kekova

Ruins in the sea on the way to Kekova

I was excited to finally have the chance to see Kekova, a city that sunk in the 2nd century AD after it was destroyed by an earthquake. I was ready to see the ancient harbor, stairs that descended into the sea and buildings buried beneath the water. Yes!

But unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown. Besides the beautiful blue water, it was hard to make out anything of the ruins. And our boat didn’t get very close to what was there.  So this, unfortunately, was a fail, in my book.

Kekova

Kekova Ruins

The sea was pretty though!

4. Myra

Myra (mee-rah), was one of the six most important cities of ancient Lycia, a region made up of the mountainous inland and turquoise coasts of southwestern Turkey. The ancient Lycians remain a mysterious civilization today, but it is known that they were a highly advanced and independent matriarchal society. Something interesting of note is that everyone in a family took on their mother’s last name instead of the father’s.

Myra Turkey

The ruins of the ancient city of Myra consist of an impressive Lycian rock-cut necropolis. The honeycomb-like configuration consists of the tombs of rulers and their family members built into the cliff face, most likely housing one family per tomb.

Myra

Lycian Tombs

Lycian rock-cut Tombs

Why did they build their tombs so high up into the cliffs? It is said that they believed a mythical winged creature (maybe a griffin?) would find them and carry them into the afterlife.

The facades resemble Lycian houses and some are even multiple stories. But, I’m not sure how they created these rock-cut tombs. How’d they get so much detail carved so high up and then transport the bodies of their ancestors up there? We may never know but it’s quite an amazing site to see.

Lycian Tombs

To the right of the tombs there is an imposing Roman amphitheater with over 30 rows of seats.

Ancient Roman Theater, Myra

In antiquity, the facade of the amphitheater was decorated with lively theatrical masks and scenes from mythology.

Myra Turkey

You can find the remnants of these decorations scattered about the dirt path on the way to the tombs.

Myra Turkey

Also in Myra is the church of Saint Nicholas. Born in nearby Patara, Turkey in the 3rd century, St. Nick later became the bishop of Myra.

Church of St. Nicholas, Myra

His kind and charitable nature became the inspiration for our modern Santa Claus and made him the patron saint of children. After he died in 343, his remains were kept in the church in Myra until they were smuggled to Bari, Italy.

Inside the church of St. Nicholas, Myra, Turkey

Inside the church of St. Nicholas

5. Perge

Perge, believed to be founded after the Trojan War, was the capital of ancient Pamphilya and one of the most beautiful cities in Anatolia. You can get a glimpse of its splendor upon entering the site, walking through it’s beautifully colonnaded boulevards.

Perge Turkey

Perge's colonnaded boulevards

Perge’s colonnaded boulevards

Perge, like Side, was a originally a port city and shares the same history of occupation, being ruled by Alexander the Great, Ptolemy of Egypt, Hannibal of the Selucid empire, Cilician pirates and then the Romans around 188BC, where it reached its height of prosperity. The city was sadly abandoned after an earthquake destroyed it. Most of the ruins we see today are from the Roman period.

Perge Turkey

Perge

Perge Turkey

Many of the statues in the Antalya museum come from the ancient city of Perge. In this post, I gave a glimpse of some the sculptural beauties you will find there. I recommend that you visit the ancient city first and then the museum after in order to get a better grasp of how the city may have looked in antiquity – beautiful, dazzling, and classical full of art and inspiration.

Unless you are staying for an extended period of time, I recommend taking a group tour. I usually don’t recommend group tours because I feel that they don’t allow you to fully experience a place and explore at your leisure. But if you have limited time, in this case, I would opt for it. You can find tour agencies around the entrance to Hadrian’s Gate.

In this post I’ve only touched on a mere fraction of archaeological treasures scattered about the Antalya region. There are so many more sites to visit around the area such as Letoon with its Hellenistic temples dedicated to Apollo, Artemis and their mother, Leto, Mount Chimera home of the eternal fire and the ancient Lycian ruins of Olympos, Xanthos and Patara (to name a few) that one can spend months exploring and still not have seen everything.

Just one more reason to keep coming back!

2 Comments

  • Marissa June 13, 2017 at 11:47 am

    I remember when I went to those amazing sites. Really amazing job describing all the ancient sites in Turkey that are worth the trip to see them.

    Reply
    • Indie Chick Travels June 13, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      Thank you, Marissa! I agree, they are all definitely worth the trip! I wish I had the time to explore them all. I mean, there are 20 Lycian sites alone! 🙂 Which one was your favorite?

      Reply

Leave a Comment

9 + 10 =