The stretch of coast between Antalya and Alanya is among the most developed in Turkey. With a four-lane highway running right behind many beaches, flanked by all-inclusive hotels and holiday-village complexes, it’s hard to imagine this was once ancient Pamphylia, a loose federation of Hellenistic cities established by incomers from northern Anatolia. Home to a busy international airport, the booming city of Antalya is the gateway to the region. Now a fully-fledged resort, it is worth visiting for its restored old town and marvellous archeological museum. The nearest (and most fascinating) ruined city is Termessos, perched on the saddle of Mount Solymos overlooking the Antalya gulf. East of Antalya, the surviving ruined cities of Pamphylia also rival the beaches as tourist attractions, with Perge and Aspendos the best preserved and most evocative sites. Further along the coast, Side is a major resort, though the striking ruins of its ancient city are fast being overshadowed by package tourist facilities. Alanya, the next sizeable centre, has also seen an explosion of hotel building and tourism-related commerce over the last few years, but has retained an attractive old quarter.
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The Köprülü Kanyon national park (Köprülü Kanyon Milli Parkı) makes a good full-day outing from Antalya. Many companies operate half-day rafting trips down the Köprülü River, allowing time for a stop en route for a swim and lunch. Be warned that in peak season up to 45,000 rafters a day are bussed into this area, making both the road and river very crowded places – serious rafters should look elsewhere.
Situated more than 1000m above sea level, the ancient site of Termessos, 30km northwest of Antalya, is one of Turkey’s prime attractions. Its dramatic setting and well-preserved ruins, tumbling from the summit of the mountain and enclosed within a national park – Güllük Dağ Milli Parkı – merit at least an afternoon of exploration.
Despite its close proximity to Lycia, Termessos was actually a Pisidian city, inhabited by the same warlike tribe who settled in the Anatolian Lakeland, around Isparta and Eğirdir, during the first millennium BC. The city’s position, commanding the road from the Mediterranean to the Aegean, enabled Termessians to extract customs dues from traders; a wall across the valley is believed to be the site of their customs post. Later, in 70 BC, Termessos signed a treaty with Rome, under which their independence was preserved – a fact the Termessians proudly expressed by never including the face or name of a Roman emperor on their coinage. The city must have been abandoned quite early, probably after earthquake damage in 243 AD, and has only been surveyed, never excavated.
A thorough exploration of the ancient site can be quite strenuous; steep climbs are necessary to reach many of the key sights. Bring sturdy footwear and lots of water – there’s nowhere to buy supplies beyond the park entrance – and time summer visits to avoid the midday sun. After checking the site map at the car park you’ll need to climb a good fifteen minutes to reach the first remains of any interest. On the way, you pass a number of well-labelled, though mainly inaccessible, ruins, including the aqueduct and cistern high on the cliff face to the left of the path.
The King’s Road and city walls
The second-century AD King’s Road was the main road up to Termessos, close to which the massive lower and upper city walls testify to a substantial defence system. The central part of the city lies beyond the second wall, to the left of the path. Its surviving buildings, formed of square-cut grey stone, are in an excellent state of repair, their walls standing high and retaining their original mouldings. In part, this is due to the inaccessibility of the site; it’s hard to imagine even the most desperate forager coming up here to pillage stone.
Gymnasium and theatre
While the first building you come to once you pass through Termessos’ mighty walls is the well-preserved gymnasium and bath complex, this is far overshadowed by the nearby theatre. One of the most magnificently situated in Turkey, it’s set on the edge of a steep gorge, with a backdrop of staggered mountains. Greek in style, it had seating space for 4200 spectators, and although some seats are missing, it’s otherwise in an excellent state of preservation.
The agora, Corinthian temple and odeon
At the far end of the open grassy space of the agora, west of the theatre, a Corinthian temple is approached up a broad flight of steps, with a six-metre-square platform. The smaller theatre or Odeon on the far side of the agora was, according to inscriptions, used for horse and foot races, races in armour, and, more frequently, wrestling. The walls of the building rise to almost 10m, surrounded by four temples. Only one – that of Zeus Solymeus, god of war and guardian of the city of Termessos – is in a decent state of repair.
Uphill from the Odeon, Termessos’ necropolis holds an incredible number of sarcophagi dating from the first to the third centuries AD. Most are simple structures on a base, though some more elaborate ones were carved from the living rock, with inscriptions and reliefs.
Tomb of Alcatus
Set in a dramatic mountaintop location, the so-called Tomb of Alcatus is widely accepted as the mausoleum of the general, a pretender to the governorship of Pisidia. The tomb itself is cave-like and undistinguished, but the carvings on its facade are remarkable, particularly one depicting a mounted soldier, with a suit of armour, a helmet, a shield and a sword – the armour of a foot soldier – depicted lower down to the right of the figure.
- The Pamphylian cities
One-time trysting place of Antony and Cleopatra, SİDE was perhaps the foremost of the Pamphylian cities. Now, however, its impressive array of ruins forms the backdrop to a modern holiday resort, set within the boundaries of the old town. Despite the recent abundance of package tourists, Side remains one of the friendliest communities along the Mediterranean, home to a burgeoning number of expats and regular holidayers. Many of the old-fashioned charms beloved of past visitors are fast disappearing – the creaky tractors that once shunted arrivals from the otogar to the city walls have been replaced by air-conditioned shuttle buses, and the seafront is becoming overrun with hawkers. However, with many of the smaller, family-run pensions in the ancient city now competing for business with the big hotels on its outskirts, Side can make an affordable base for travels around the region. Wander down the dusty backstreets or strike up a conversation with one of the friendly pension owners and you’ll catch a glimpse of the old Side that travellers still rave about.
Ancient Side has been almost overwhelmed by the modern town, and becomes hideously crowded with tour groups in summer. Sadly, many areas, particularly the theatre and colonnaded street, have suffered serious damage from the sheer number of visitors. However, independent travellers who set out early in the day can still enjoy some corners of the city.
East of the badly preserved city gate, the old walls are in a reasonable state, with a number of towers still in place. Back at the gate, a colonnaded street runs down to the agora, the site of Side’s second-century slave market, today fringed with the stumps of many of the agora’s columns. The circular foundation visible at the centre of the agora is all that remains of a Temple of Fortuna, while in the northwest corner, next to the theatre, you can just about make out the outline of a semicircular building that once served as a public latrine, seating 24 people.
Side (meaning “pomegranate” in an ancient Anatolian dialect) was founded in the seventh century BC by colonists attracted by the defensive potential of the rocky cape. It grew into a rich port, home to an estimated sixty thousand inhabitants during its peak in the second century AD. Initially a significant proportion of Side’s wealth stemmed from the slave trade; city authorities allowed pirates to run an illegal slave market inside the city walls. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Side survived only until Arab invaders put the place to the torch during the seventh century AD, and drove out the last inhabitants. Side was abandoned until Muslim fishermen from Crete settled here early in the twentieth century. Despite later attempts by the Turkish government and archeological agencies to evict them, these villagers stayed, and by the 1980s their descendants were starting to reap the rewards of Side’s tourist boom.
Golf tourism in Belek
Golf tourism in Belek
Turkey might not be your first thought as a golfing destination, but with its mild climate and vast acres of verdant countryside, the southern coastal region is fast gaining acclaim on the international golf scene. Belek, 30km east of Antalya, is the main hub of the sport, home to five golf courses. Designed by Ryder Cup player David Feherty, the 18-hole championship course at the impressive National Golf Club (t0242 725 4625, wnationalturkey.com) hosts the multi-million-dollar World Golf Final, which attracts eight of the planet’s top golfers.
Luxury hotel resorts in the area offer inclusive golf packages (check out wgolfinturkey.com for ideas). Even if your game isn’t quite up to par, you’ll be able to revel in the landscape of natural lakes, gently undulating lawns and eucalyptus forests, set to a backdrop of the snowcapped Taurus Mountains.