With vast swathes of golden sand hugging a ragged sea cliff, and the smooth waves of the Mediterranean lapping beneath a looming fortress, it’s easy to explain ALANYA’s booming popularity among tourists. The beachside sprawl of uninspiring yet all-encompassing restaurants, shops and nightclubs serves merely as a colourful fringe to the charismatic old city; peel yourself away from the watersports and overpriced cocktails and you’ll find a city heaving with historical gems, atmospheric places to eat, and hiking possibilities.
Little is known about Alanya’s early history, but it’s thought to have been founded by Greek colonists who named it Kalonoros, or “beautiful mountain”. Things were pretty quiet until the second century BC, when Cilician pirates began using the town, known by now as Coracesium, as a base to terrorize the Pamphylian coast. Eventually, the Romans decided to put a stop to things and sent in Pompey, who destroyed the pirate fleet in a sea battle off Alanya in 67 BC. In 44 BC, Mark Antony gave the city to Cleopatra as a gift. Romantic as this might sound, there was a practical reason for his choice: this area was an important timber-producing centre, and Cleopatra needed its resources to build up her navy. In 1221, the Byzantine city fell to the Selçuk sultan Alâeddin Keykubad, who gave it its present name and made it his summer residence. Most buildings of historical importance date from that era.
Entrepreneurs in Alanya offer boat tours to several caves dotted along the waterline at the base of the promontory. Trips leave from the harbour, and cost from TL20 per person for one hour, or from TL30 for longer excursions that include dolphin watching. If you want to go inside the smaller caves, make sure you take a small boat tour; the bigger ships will simply pull up outside.
The first stop is usually the Fosforlu (Phosphorus Cave), where the water shimmers green; then it’s on round the Cilyarda Burnu, a long spit of land that’s home to a ruined monastery and former mint. It’s not possible to go ashore.
On the other side of the skinny peninsula, according to a bizarre local story, a German woman and her Turkish boyfriend were stranded for three months in 1965 in the Aşıklar Mağarası (Lovers’ Cave), while the police and army mounted searches for them.
More credibly, the Korsanlar Mağarası or pirate’s cave, a little further around, is said to be where the pirates of yesteryear used to hide out. You will also be taken to Cleopatra’s Cave, where legends claim the queen used to descend to bathe while staying here with Mark Antony.