Center of heavenly experiences
Perched on a striking limestone promontory at the base of the Taurus Mountains, the region of Antalya is a place where the mountains meet the sea, where vast and verdant canyons, sweeping stretches of golden sand and gushing waterfalls provide the canvas upon which the ancients chronicled their stories. A more contemporary picture of Antalya employs this very same landscape as a backdrop for increasingly modern, trend-setting and even practical sensibilities.
The entire coastline overflows with alluring spas, state-of-the art wellness, leisure and restorative facilities designed to rejuvenate the mind and body. World-class greenways designed by award-winning golfers attest to Antalya’s standing as the golf capital of Turkey. And endowed with top convention facilities capable of accommodating more than 50,000 attendees at any given time, the city is also a much sought-after congress center. For Antalya is a place where the ancient meets the modern, where the sun meets the sea, and where business and pleasure can easily go hand in hand.
The heart of Antalya’s capital of the same name beats in and around the city’s historic quarter of Kaleiçi, a charismatic neighborhood of meandering cobblestone lanes and traditional Ottoman mansions. Wrapped in a fortification of sandstone hued ramparts, the citadel and its storied harbor welcomed Sts. Paul and Barnabas in the 1st century, and later, Emperor Hadrian, whose name graces the triumphal marble entryway into the city. Today the castle fortress is occupied by faithfully restored stone and timber mansions built around the inner sanctum of the garden courtyard that in the past decade have been converted, one by one, to charming little inns, wonderful galleries and boutiques. All along the length of these narrow lanes are exterior walls draped in bougainvillea, precious handicrafts and irresistible hand-knotted carpets.
Antalya’s venerable history is on display in the exceptional Antalya Museum, an archaeological feast of more than 5,000 artifacts chronicling the nearly 50,000 years of human history rooted in Antalya’s soil. Among the museum’s more extraordinary artifacts is the magnificent collection of Greek statues of mythical gods, and the Roman portraits in marble of Emperors such as Trajan, Hadrian, and Septimius Severus.
Beyond the walls of the museum, in the stately Ottoman cisterns housing art exhibitions and in the city’s mosques, minarets and hamams is the living history of Antalya, representing the quintessentially Turkish approach to religious and civil spaces.
The city is flanked to the west by the outstanding beach of Konyaalti, a seaside strip of pure delight with waterside lounges, beachfront greens, children’s playgrounds and an aquarium offering entertainment to appeal to the whole family. On the opposite side of town is Lara Beach, where every year, Antalya hosts a spectacular sand sculpture festival challenging artists to create temporary fantasies in sand.
For more active visitors, the region of Antalya is rich with outdoor possibilities. There’s rafting, biking and even jeep safaris into the mountains, through villages such as Elmali, where life is as simple as the apples for which it takes its name. Or riverboat tours down the mouth of the Manavgat River, past long stretches of golden hued beaches to the soaring Temple of Apollo at the ancient city of Side. At every turn, there is a flash of history or a window into authentic Turkey.
A short excursion from the city center to the mountaintop citadel of Termessos will bring you and your beating heart to its highest point, to a city standing defiantly more than a mile above sea level, its ghosts still taunting Alexander the Great as the only city that he failed to conquer.
Intrepid budding archaeologists won’t want to miss a visit to the ancient city of Sagalassos, described by its western discoverer in 1706 as a “city inhabited by fairies.” For decades eclipsed by the attention showered upon Ephesus, Pergamum and other large-scale sites, the finely carved stone and statues of Roman emperors of Sagalassos have only recently begun to see the light.
Along the coastal road east of the city of Antalya are the Pamphylian cities of Aspendos and Perge, two ancient trading ports that hosted St. Paul and Barnabas on their way in and out of Antioch in Psidia in 46AD. Both sites are home to relics on antiquity’s “best of” list; in Perge sprawls one of the finest stadiums of the ancient world, while visitors the world over flock to Aspendos to admire the best-preserved antique theater in all of Asia Minor.
Having earned infamy as a pirate base and gained celebrity when the city was presented to Cleopatra by Marc Antony, Alanya has in more modern times become popular for its impressive, 140 tower, four mile long castle ramparts surveying a position from a steep promontory.
Just 17 miles from Antalya, the Karain Caves were home to prehistoric man as early 50,000 BC. Bones, skulls and instruments found in the caves can be seen at the small adjacent museum and in the Museum of Anatolian Civilization in Ankara.
Along the outstretched arms of the Antalya plateau, ice melting from atop the Taurus Mountains forces its way to the gulf at breathtaking Kursunlu Falls, in Manavgat and at Düden, where one can sample local recipes at a restaurant, your feet dangling in the river.
Negotiating the surrounding landscape are the Lycian Way and St. Paul’s Way, offering more hiking trails than one could cover in a summer, and paths that can be completed in a day. Tumbled marble roads and Roman bridges spanning splendid canyons and gorges mark the route St. Paul may have taken on his way from Perge to Antioch in Pisidia, while a casual stroll along the southern coastline reveals rock carved Lycian tombs, fragrant Mediterranean flora, and rural, quintessentially Turkish villages.
The coastline that leads west from Antalya reveals one of the country’s most spectacular convergences of natural beauty and historical legacy, where the ancients established prosperous societies crowned with impressive monuments in stone, and where the dazzling and dramatic Blue Cruise was perfected. The ancient acropolis of Olympos is made even more dramatic by the splendid coastal panorama from the summit, while a short walk down the road and up a forest trail leads to the dreaded Chimeira, named for the streaks of flame erupting from deep within Mt. Olympos that continue to burn as if the god Bellerophon and the monster were still in battle.
The imprints of Mausolus, Alexander the Great and Hadrian can all be found in the pretty, formerly influential ancient port city of Phaselis with three charming harbors sheltered at the base of a thick pine forest.
The ruins of Myra and the modern day town of Demre share the legacy of St. Nicholas, who, as Bishop of Myra, presided over the spiritual life of this former Lycian capital. In Myra rest the remains of some of the most impressive rock cut tombs in all of Lycia, with well-preserved inscriptions adding to the historical record. Not far from the site in the town center is the St. Nicholas (and Santa Claus) Church and Museum, a popular stopover for pilgrims and children alike.
A mystery of the ancient world lies undiscovered in Kekova Bay, a stunning area of typical villages, ancient island ruins, castle ramparts and enchanting waters. No one knows how or why the remains of an ancient city came to be found beneath the sea, leaving inquisitive visitors investigating their own theories from glass-bottom boats. The Castle of Simena rises atop the tiny village of the same name (also known as Kale), its bastions providing a bird’s eye view of partially submerged Lycian tombs and waterside fish restaurants below.
An antique theater and some wayward Lycian tombs are the only visible remains of Antiphellos an ancient city peeking out from amidst the popular resort of Kas, a harbor town of picturesque streets and rocky coastline. Just a short drive away is the town’s sister harbor of Kalkan, a charming village characterized by its whitewashed Greek and Ottoman stone houses with shuttered windows and timber balconies terraced down the steep sloping hillside to a picturesque harbor.
Both Kas and Kalkan serve as optimum destinations both for a delicious seaside retreat and as a base for excursions to the surrounding treasures.
Xanthos, Patara and Letoon are three of those treasures.
Patara is one of the more impressive antique cities along the coast, with an extraordinary and star-studded history that is almost as extensive as its 11 mile long, golden stretch of sandy beach. The impressive remains of this once great port city, slowly being uncovered after centuries of internment under silt and sand, reveals the city’s connection to the cult of Apollo, to St. Nicholas, and to Hadrian.
Even more significant are the substantial ruins at Xantos, the oldest and largest city in the Lycian League. Besides its breathtakingly sited theater, its architecturally impressive sarcophagi and other spectacular monuments, Xanthos is best known for the independence and determination of its former citizens, who twice met tragic ends while fighting for their freedom. While at its height, Xanthos’ society conducted its religious rites about 2.5 miles away at Letoon, where three impressive temples represent the sanctuary of the Goddess Leto, and her children, Artemis and Apollo.
Taken together,it is the unique blend of geography and history that has so blessed this region, where this close to the heart of the city, one can satisfy the mind in the morning and relax in the sun in the afternoon.