Archaeologist Petra Michelson and her husband are dedicated globetrotters. But the allure of the Turkish coast is calling... Petra tells us how a visit to Side almost four decades ago resulted in a life-long love affair with Turkey.
Petra Michelson’s memories of 1970s Side were of a tiny town with a “tremendous” beach. The young student of archaeology visited the Turkish coast in 1976, touring the country’s chief archaeology sites, as well as a few lesser known sites.
The archaeologist and ancient civilisations expert specialising in the Hellenistic Period says the trip was unforgettable. “It was my first time outside Britain and it made a lasting impression,” she said. She remembered Side as a town with few people and not a lot to do after the day’s study “except drink some pretty substandard beer and sit on the beach - a student’s dream.” Little did she know that one day she’d put down roots in the pretty seaside town.
Michelson’s passion has taken her all over the world, and to digs in Greece, Egypt, Israel and North Africa, and of course, Turkey, where she has worked on a number of excavations.
“Turkey is an archaeologist’s dream,” she says. “Most people know about Ephesus, which is of course spectacular, but what a lot of people don’t realise is that there are incredible sites everywhere in Turkey, with more being discovered all the time. And they are so commonplace, you pass them in the street. In fact, if you ask a local where you can find a local archaeological attraction sometimes they will shake their heads at you because to them it’s just a part of the land, like the mountains or the sea.”
Side’s ruins are very interesting, Michelson says. “Not only are they some of the most significant sites in this part of the world, but they have been incorporated into the town very nicely for everyone to see. This is one reason I like Turkey so much, the old and new work together so well.”
The ruins include a huge, 20,000-capacity theatre complex, designed in a similar way to a Roman amphitheatre and thought to have been built well over two millennia ago. “To me, this theatre is so fascinating, and an anomaly in this part of the world,” she says. “The reason it’s so different is because of the geography, there was no hillside available to hollow out the usual Greek-style amphitheatre so the architects opted for the Roman style, with arches.”
There’s also a theatre - once used for brutal gladiator-style fights - and a temple to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and pleasure. You can also the ancient city walls and walk up the street to the former public bath, today used as a museum with Roman statues and sarcophagi.
“We already know a lot about the history of this area,” says Petra, “but Side’s excavations are still ongoing, so there is a lot to learn.”
However, while Petra is passionate about all things archaeology, Side’s ruins are not the sole reason she and her husband Don, a writer, are planning to settle here and buy a property in Side. After a lifetime working all over the world, working on dusty sites in Egypt, Israel and North Africa, the duo decided it was time for a little leisure time. Long-time fans of the Middle East, the couple decided on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. “It’s got that Middle Eastern culture that we love, but a bit more Westernised, and also closer to the UK where we still have family. We also wanted a friendly beach community, with a mix of expats and locals, with plenty of culture.”
It didn’t take them long to hit upon Side, a seaside town two hours’ drive from Antalya. Boasting 300 days of sunshine each year, and a close-knit, diverse community, the Michelsons decided they’d found the perfect spot. “It’s changed a lot but it still has the friendly, seaside atmosphere that I remembered. The beer’s better now, but I’m glad to say the beach is just the same.”
In 2011 the pair bought a duplex apartment in Side near the beach, a short stroll away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre. For now, they’re spending winters here, strolling along the beach and enjoying the peace and quiet. During the summer months when Side picks up speed, they rent their apartment to holidaymakers, earning 6% rental income for five months’ rental. “The rental income funds our summer holidays each year, and we have a fantastic management company who take care of everything for us.” In two or three years, when they tire of wandering the world, the duo will settle here for good.
“It’s a long-running joke amongst our family and friends that we can never stay in the same place,” says Petra. “When we signed the contract and our agent said ‘congratulations, welcome to your new home’ we just looked at each other and laughed.”
A big pull for Don was Side’s proximity to Belek, Turkey’s golfing centre, where there are a number of world class courses. “Don is a huge golfer. In fact, he got a bit carried away this year and has membership at three courses,” Michelson says. “Some days I wonder if he’s actually going to remember to come back home.” Side is also close to Antalya City for the times the couple require a dose of big city shopping, restaurants or museums.
And of course, there’s the many ruins and ancient sites in Side and along the coastline. “I’m planning to spend my dotage exploring all these incredible places,” says Michelson. “Exploring this part of the world in the 70s lit a spark, and was the beginning of my career. It makes sense that I would live my days out in this part of the world.”
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