The Antalya district in Mediterranean Turkey boasts of many attributes. Naturally, as the second most visited holiday destination in the country, activities for foreign visitors are plentiful, and hospitality standards as seen in hotels and restaurants are high and of impeccable quality.
One particular genre that garners international admiration is the mass of historical ruins and sites. Antalya’s dedication to preserving and displaying its historical past fits in with the 20-year plan for Turkey’s tourism initiative. So, with an aim of making themselves one of the top ten visited countries in the world, historical ruins in Antalya have become a beacon for history lovers everywhere.
The Best Historical Ruins in Antalya
Aspendos is the most famous of them all, simply because of its mostly intact and impressive theatre. Sitting 25 miles east of Antalya city centre, its Roman theatre dating from roughly AD 80 accommodates approximately 15,000 spectators. Dedicated to “Gods of the country and Imperial House,” the gladiator and wild animal shows of the 3rd century were the highlight of social life for Aspendos citizens. Thanks to exceptional acoustics, anyone in the upper galleries can hear a coin dropped in the orchestra area, making it the perfect venue for the yearly opera and ballet festival. Along with the theatre, other landmark structures to visit include the Agora ruins, Acropolis, and aqueduct.
Perge: The Allies of Alexander the Great
Closer to Antalya centre, ancient Perge was a prosperous trading port as far back as 1300BC. Locals welcomed Alexander the Great when he conquered the region and for many years, he used Perge as a base for his campaign. Unfortunately, the Byzantine era marked the beginning of its decline because the coastline started edging backwards diminishing its importance as a sea trading port. Antalya Archaeological Museum houses many of the precious artefacts found in this city including statues and sarcophagi. Within the old city ruins, though, prominent landmarks include the red Hellenistic gate towers, bathhouses, a 4th-century agora, 12,000 seaters, and stadium.
This Pisidian city built on the side of Gulluk Mountain stands at an altitude of 1665 metres. Uniquely known as being one of the few cities that Alexander the Great was unable to conquer, its high altitude sets it apart from other historical ruins in Antalya. Unfortunately, an earthquake that destroyed the aqueduct and water supply forced locals to flee, and that prompted the demise of Termessos. Once again, the prize landmark of these ruins is the 4,000 seater theatre and its magnificent view over the surrounding plains. Other notable landmarks include rock tombs on the road into the city, the agora, 100 seater Odeon and 6 temples.
The Former Sea Trading Port of Phaselis
Although smaller than other city ruins, Phaselis is more charming because of its surrounding beaches. Likewise, as an ancient sea trading port, it achieved great commercial success in history, yet the reason for its demise was not the edging coastline but instead, continued attacks by pirates determined to earn money the quick way. The considerably small theatre doesn’t garner much admiration but the main agora street scattered throughout a forested area, reaches from one beach to another, and its simple, humble ambience does attract attention. Far off in the distance, Mount Olympos sits tall and proud while daily boat trips dock into the bays providing a unique and exciting way of getting to Phaselis.
Side Town Centre
In a fabulous twist, the ancient city ruins of Side are uniquely special because a modern town has sprouted up around them. A smart decision to leave the ruins intact as they are, while the new town was built led the way to an exclusive setting. The theatre almost as large as that of Aspendos sits in the heart of Side. Built in a stilted Roman style, it is strikingly different from other traditional Hellenistic theatres situated all over Turkey. Entrance to the site is through the Hellenistic main gate adjoining the well-preserved city ruins, while the Agora square holds remains of the Tyche and Fortuna temple. Wherever you stay in Antalya, it is worth travelling the short distance to visit the ruins of Side and its modern town.
Olympos and Captain Euromos’s Sarcophagus
The forested setting of these ruins provides a mystical, fairy-tale ambience to the historical storyline of this ancient city. Sitting within Olympos National Park and close to the neighbouring resort of Cirali, the most impressive ruins are the Roman temple, bathhouses, and the mysterious sarcophagus of Captain Euromos. It is mysterious because nobody is entirely sure who Captain Euromos was yet he has this impressive sarcophagus indicating he was of nobility or wealthy standing. Formerly a prominent member of the Lycian League, before citizens abandoned it in the 15th century, it enjoyed great success and wealth.
Myra and the Church of Saint Nicholas
Heading to the outskirts of the Antalya region, Myra is worth visiting for the theatre but more so the Lycian rock tombs embedded into the hillsides. The Lycian Empire traditionally placed sarcophagi or tombs in high places so that the winged creature from the afterlife could carry them off easily. At the same time as visiting Myra, visit the church of Saint Nicholas otherwise known as Santa Claus. Unfortunately, Italian sailors in the 11th century broke into his sarcophagus and stole his bones, yet the rest of the church is equal as impressive and now a centre of pilgrimage for many Catholics.
Handy Tip: While you are in Antalya, also visit the Archeological Museum holding many artefacts from these ancient cities and others around Turkey. One exhibition hall is devoted to statues found in Perge’s ruins.
Further Reading: You may also be interested to read this article about 7 unknown historical sites of Turkey that are rarely visited by the outside world.
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