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visitors are fast disappearing – the creaky tractors that once shunted arrivals from the otogar to the city walls have been replaced by air-conditioned shuttle buses, and the seafront is becoming overrun with hawkers.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.