Explore The Turquoise Coast
Turkey’s southwesternmost shore, noted for its fine beaches and stunning scenery, has long been dubbed “the Turquoise Coast” in tourist-board speak, after the hues of its horizons and the sea. It’s dominated by the Baba, Akdağ and Bey mountains, which drop precipitously to the main coastal highway which often skims just above the water. Along here, and some way inland, lay ancient Lycia,whose independent people bequeathed a legacy of distinctive rock tombs to Turkish tourism.
Until the late 1970s there was no continuous paved road through here, and most seaside settlements were reachable only by boat. Many attractive coves and islets are still inaccessible to vehicles, with yachting and gulet trips accordingly popular. But local roads have vastly improved since then, reaching hitherto isolated bays such as Kekova, Adrasan and Çıralı. However, the impact of development has been minimized by restricted building height and special protection regimes for nearby archeological sites and wildlife habitats, and touting in the streets and at otogars is not yet at the level of Kuşadası, Selçuk or Pamukkale.
The usually excellent Highway 400 links Marmaris and Antalya, via most sights along the way, offering occasional views. A bypass between Kalkan and Dalaman, including a 2009-opened tunnel at Göcek, has sharply reduced local travel times (eg, Fethiye to Patara in 1hr). The coast is best approached via Dalaman airport, to which there are regular direct international flights most of the year, as well as domestic flights from İstanbul.
At the far west of the region, Dalyan is noted for its sandy beach – a sea-turtle nesting ground – and the ruins of Kaunos, as well as being an attractive small resort in itself, though now – as everywhere on this coast – holiday-home sales nearly match conventional tourism as a money-spinner. East of here, Fethiye is the Turquoise Coast’s oldest resort and largest town; along with Ölüdeniz lagoon, it’s handy for some of the area’s numerous and spectacularly sited Lycian ruins such as Oenoanda, Kadyanda and Tlos, in dramatic mountainous locations. Further southeast, Patara abuts one of Turkey’s best beaches, making it easy to combine sea and sun with cultural forays to the Letoön sanctuary, Pınara, Sidyma and Xanthos. Other convenient bases are the nearby resorts of Kalkan and Kaş, smaller than Fethiye and pitched at rather different clienteles.
Further east, Finike is the next major town: rather a washout as a resort unless you’re a yachtie, though the starting point for a precipitous inland route past ancient Arykanda to Elmalı. The mountain air and marvellous scenery repay the trip, especially if a return loop to the coast is made via Gömbe, jumping-off point for the alpine attractions of Akdağ.
Beyond Finike, the scenery becomes increasingly impressive as you enter conifer forests on the slopes of Tahtalı Dağ, officially designated a national park, before passing ancient Olympos – plus more good beaches at Adrasan and Çıralı – and ancient Phaselis. Thereafter, however, a string of functional (indeed dreary) purpose-built resorts dominated by German and Russian holiday-makers lines the approach to Antalya.
Mountainous, rugged Lycia (Likya in Turkish) lies south of a line drawn roughly between Antalya and Köyceğiz Gölü. At the core of the territory, the Bey Dağları and Akdağ, each exceeding 3000m elevation, isolate it from the rest of Anatolia. Relatively secure in their mountain fastness, the fiercely independent ancient Lycians – probably an indigenous, pre-Hittite people – organized their main cities and conurbations of smaller towns as the democratic Lycian Federation, with 23 voting units. This elected municipal and federal officials and, until imperial Rome assumed control, made decisions of state. Homer’s Iliad mentions the Lycians as allies of the Trojans; later, in the sixth century BC, the region was subdued by the Persian general Harpagos, but then largely left to govern itself.
From 454 BC, after the Athenian general Kimon had expelled the Persians from the Mediterranean coast, the Lycians became members of the Athens-dominated Delian League. The League ceased to exist after the Peloponnesian War and Lycia again fell under Persian domination. Alexander the Great arrived in 333 BC and, after conquering Halikarnassos, easily secured the region’s surrender; following his death Lycia was ruled by Alexander’s general, Ptolemy, also king of Egypt. Under Ptolemaic rule in the third century BC Greek displaced the native Lycian language and Lycian cities adopted Greek constitutions. The Ptolemies were defeated by Antiokhos III in 197 BC, himself bested in 189 BC by the Romans, who handed the kingdom over to the Rhodians. The Lycians bitterly resented Rhodian control and succeeded in 167 BC in having this administrative relegation revoked.
Thereafter, the Lycians enjoyed over two centuries of semi-independence under a revived federation, resisting the Pontic king Mithridates in 88 BC and being subsequently rewarded by Rome for their loyalty. During the Roman civil wars, Lycian reluctance to assist Brutus caused the destruction of Xanthos, and in 43 AD it was joined to Pamphylia in a larger Roman province. Roman imperial rule saw Lycia reach its maximum ancient population of 200,000, a figure not again equalled until the twentieth century, and the cities were graced by the Roman civic architecture constituting most of the ruins on view today.
During the fourth century the province was divided by Diocletian and a period of Byzantine-supervised decline followed, abetted by Arab raids in the seventh and eighth centuries. From then on, the area’s history resembled that of the rest of western Anatolia, where, after Selçuk Turk sovereignty during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and an interlude of minor emirates, a more durable Anatolian Muslim state was installed by the Ottomans. They continued a pattern of moving nomadic Turkic tribes into the Lycian uplands, leaving the coast to pirates and local chieftains, until in the eighteenth century the sultan ordered its settlement by more tractable, productive Greek Orthodox colonists from the offshore islands.Read More