From Highway 400, two marked side roads provide access to the ruins of the ancient Lycian city of Olympos. After 8km, the southerly road (marked “Olympos 11, Adrasan (Çavuşköy) 15”) ends at a fee car park and inland ticket booth for the ruins. Just upstream from here in the Olympos valley are a dozen-plus pansiyons or “treehouse” lodges – a legendarily popular base with Anglophone backpackers. The northerly turning off Highway 400, 800m north of the southerly one and signposted “Çıralı 7, Yanartaş, Chimaera”, leads down to coastal Çıralı hamlet, which also has food and accommodation, and equally easy access to the ruins. Inland from Çıralı burns a perpetual flame, fed by natural gases emanating from the ground. Since antiquity this has been called the Chimaera, after a mythical fire-breathing monster supposed to have inhabited these mountains.
Olympos has two entrances: one inland, at the end of the southerly approach road, and another (where the guards are reportedly not so vigilant) about fifteen minutes’ walk south along the beach from Çıralı’s river mouth. It’s potentially an idyllic site on the banks of an oleander- and fig-shaded stream running between high cliffs. Alas, years of littering or sleeping rough in the site (despite notices forbidding both) has seen the water muddied or worse, and the turtles, ducks and frogs that may still live here now make themselves scarce. The scanty ruins line the banks of the stream, which rarely dries up completely in summer, owing to three freshwater springs welling up on the north bank, close to the ocean.
Extensive Byzantine-Genoese fortifications overlook the beach from each creek bank, just 25 metres up the crags. At the base of the north-bank fort are two “harbour tombs”, with a touching epigraph on a ship captain translated for viewers. Further along the south bank stands part of a quay and an arcaded warehouse; to the east on the same side lies a Byzantine church; while in the river itself is a pillar from a vanished bridge. In the undergrowth there’s a theatre, its seats mostly gone. The stream’s north bank has the most striking ruins. East of the path to the beach looms a well-preserved marble doorframe built into a wall of ashlar masonry. At the foot of the carved doorway is an inscribed statue base dedicated to Marcus Aurelius, dated 172–175 AD. East of the portal hide a Byzantine villa with mosaic floors, a mausoleum-style tomb and a Byzantineaqueduct that carried water to the heart of the city. The aqueduct overlaps the outflow of one of the aforementioned springs; follow it upstream, past the mausoleum-tomb, to the villa.
Nothing is known about the origins of Olympos, but the city presumably took its name from Mount Olympos, present-day Tahtalı Dağ, 16km north – one of over twenty mountains with the name Olympos in the ancient world. The city made its historical debut during the second century BC, minting its own coins; within a few decades Olympos was one of six cities in the Lycian Federation having three votes, confirming its importance.
The principal deity of Olympos was Hephaestos (the Roman Vulcan), god of fire and of blacksmiths. He was considered native to this region, and traces of a temple dedicated to him exist near the Chimaera. During the first century BC, the importance of his cult diminished when pirates led by Zeniketes overran both Olympos and nearby Phaselis, introducing the worship of the Indo-European god Mithras. Zeniketes made Olympos his headquarters, but in 78 BC he was defeated by the local Roman governor, and again in 67 BC by Pompey, after which Olympos became public property. The city’s fortunes revived after absorption into the Roman Empire in 43 AD, and Christianity became prominent. Olympos was later used as a trading base by the Venetians and Genoese – thus Ceneviz Limanı (Genoese Harbour) just south – but was abandoned after the Ottomans dominated the Mediterranean.Read More
North of Olympos, the eternal flames of the Chimaera (alias Yanartaş) are about an hour’s stroll from Çıralı village; it’s also possible to drive to the bottom of the ascent and walk from the car park (about 20min). The trailhead is well signposted, though the path up (part of the inland alternate Lycian Way) consists of garishly field-stoned steps with odd heights, on its way to a Byzantine chapel and tholos of Hephaestos as well as the flame. The climb is most rewarding (and coolest) at dusk, since the fire is best seen after dark; most Olympos-valley treehouse-lodges organize nocturnal visits for a nominal fee.
It’s not certain what causes the phenomenon of clustered flames sprouting from cracks on the bare hillside; analysis reveals traces of methane in the gas but otherwise its make-up is unique. The flames can be extinguished temporarily if covered, when a gaseous smell is noticeable, but will spontaneously re-ignite. They have been burning since antiquity, and inspired local worship of Hephaestos (Vulcan), generally revered wherever fire or lava issued forth. The region was also home to a fire-breathing monster with a lion’s head and forelegs, a goat’s rear end, and a snake tail: the Chimaera. Its silhouette, incidentally, has long been the logo of the Petrol Ofisi chain of Turkish filling stations.
In recent decades tourist development, albeit of a vaguely alternative sort, has taken off at ÇIRALİ. Six hotels and about sixty pansiyons have sprung up along the approach road and on two parallel lanes behind the superb three-kilometre beach, between the Ulupınar stream which meets the sea here, and the low hills to the north. Loggerhead and green sea turtles still lay their eggs here, so you shouldn’t dig up, litter or nocturnally illuminate the beach during the summer nesting season. Çıralı barely counts as a hamlet, but just over the river-bridge, on the inland lane, is a short parade of basic shops and even scooter/bicycle/car rental (the latter pricey); many pansiyons loan bikes for free.