One of Turkey’s fastest-growing cities, ANTALYA is blessed with an ideal climate (excluding the searing heat of July and August) and a stunning setting atop a limestone plateau, with the formidable Beydağları looming to the west. In the heart of town, the pretty yacht harbour huddles below the Roman walls, while the crescent of Konyaaltı bay curves to the industrial harbour 10km west. Interest for tourists is largely confined to the relatively tiny and central old quarter within the Roman walls, known as the Kaleiçi (or “within the castle”). The city’s renowned Archeological Museum, however, west of the old town, is home to one of the finest collections in the country.
Antalya was founded as late as the second century BC by Attalus II of Pergamon, and named Attaleia in his honour. The Romans only consolidated their hold on the city and its hinterland during the imperial period, following successful campaigns against local pirates. Christianity and the Byzantines had a similarly slow start, though because of its strategic location and good anchorage Antalya was an important halt for the Crusaders. The Selçuks supplanted the Byzantines for good early in the thirteenth century, and to them are owed most of the medieval monuments visible today (albeit some built on Byzantine foundations). Ottoman Antalya figured little in world events until 1918, when the Italians made it the focus of their short-lived Turkish colony.
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.
Antalya’s Altın Portakal or Golden Orange film festival runs for a week each autumn, usually at the start of October. It’s a major international film event, screening around 150 films throughout the week. Events culminate with an award ceremony at the Atatürk Kültür Merkezi, where golden statuettes of Venus carrying an orange are handed out. All week, directors, screenwriters and producers of Turkish and Eurasian cinema hold panel discussions and workshops, and parties take place across the city. All films are subtitled in English as well as in Turkish. For the full festival programme, visit waltinportakal.org.tr.
The best place to start exploring Antalya’s old town, Kaleiçi, is from the old harbour, where the once-crumbling quays have been rebuilt, gardens laid out and the harbour walls restored. The redeveloped old harbour, now home to day-trip boats, some charter gulets and a few fishing boats, is popular with tourists and locals alike, who frequent the quayside restaurants, cafés and clubs.
From the harbour, head uphill along Uzun Çarşi Sokak, past the eighteenth-century Mehmet Paşa Camii, to Kalekapısı (Castle Gate), the main entrance to the old town. Nearby the Saat Kulesi (Clock tower), a Selçuk tower with inset Roman column drums, is built into a section of the old walls. Kalekapısı is overlooked by the Yivli Minare or “Fluted Minaret”, erected during the thirteenth-century reign of the Selçuk sultan, Alâeddin Keykubad, and today something of a symbol of the city. Facing the Yivli Minare is an early, plain Selçuk han whose crumbling walls have been “restored”, a rather grand term for encasing the ruins in glass and filling the interior with souvenir shops. Above this area, but accessed from Cumhuriyet Caddesi, is an old baths, and a pyramidal mausoleum from 1377.
Bearing right onto Atatürk Caddesi, you’ll soon draw even with the triple-arched Hadrian’s Gate (Üç Kapılar), recalling a visit by that emperor in 130 AD. Hesapçı Sokak, the quietest entry to Kaleiçi, begins here, a cobbled street of restored Ottoman houses that now holds assorted pensions, trinket shops, restaurants and bars. About halfway along, the tower and attendant buildings known collectively as the Kesik Minare (Broken Minaret) form an architectural anomaly that’s done successive duty as temple, church and mosque.
The Mermerli and Karaalioğlu parks, just east of Kaleiçi, offer some well-needed shade and contain a number of pleasant tea gardens, with views stretching along the coast. In the northwestern corner, the Hıdırlık Kulesi, a round Roman tower, is the best place in town to watch the frequently spectacular sunsets over the snowcapped mountains and the gulf of Antalya.
The Hasan Subaşı Kültür Parkı, or the Atatürk Kültür Merkezi (AKM), 3km west of the centre, is a cliff-top park, theatre and exhibition centre and a favourite spot for joggers, roller-bladers and Sunday strollers, with tea gardens and children’s playgrounds on site.