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The land of ancient cities : Antalya

The land of ancient cities : Antalya


The land of ancient cities : Antalya

The principal ancient cities of the Mediterranean are situated within the perimeter of the Antalya province. Some of them are port cities having served defence purposes; others had a quiet life in the woods.

Antalya and its surrounding area are home to countless ancient cit-ies. Aspendos, Side and Olympos are best known. Simena, Termes-sos, Patara and Selinus are some of the other historical sites of the area. The multicultural historical background of the region goes back to the 3rd millennium BC. Let us embark upon a journey through the history and culture of Antalya.

Aspendos Theatre and its famous waterways

Aspendos (Belkis Kale) is an ancient city known for having the best preserved Roman Theatre not just in Anatolia but in the entire Mediterranean region. The adjective Estvedijys inscribed on coins minted in the 5th century BC indicates that Aspendos was called ESTVEDYS more anciently in the native language.

It was a city of Pamphylia, established on an isolated hill on the right bank of the River Eurymedon (Köprüçay) at the point where the river issues from the Taurus. Convenient access to the Mediterranean through the river and surrounding fertile lands contributed to the development of Aspendos.

The ancient city is now mostly visited for its theatre and waterways. The ruins of other buildings of the city are located on the plateau on top of the hill against the flanks of which leans the amphitheatre. The theatre dedicated to the gods and emperors embodies the characteristics of Roman theatre architecture and construction techniques.

The semi-circular auditorium and the side walls situated parallel to the auditorium are particular features of Roman theatre architecture. Nowadays, the Aspendos Theatre hosts every summer a popular ‘Opera and Ballet Festival’ organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.


Commercial city of Perge

Perge situated 18 km east of Antalya, within the present-day Aksu Sub-district is an ancient city of Pamphylia, owing its significance to its geographic location on the trade route between Cilicia and Pisidia. It was founded at the same time with the other cities of Pamphylia in the 7th century BC.

Originally worshipping the mother goddess Artemis of Perge, the city has also been an important hub for Christians throughout the centuries. St. Paul and Barnabas came to Perge and lived there for a long period of time. A city favoured by wealthy people, both in terms of its commercial importance and its soothing nature, was adorned with magnificent monuments.

The most important ruins of the ancient city are the Hellenic-Roman theatre with a capac-ity of 12 thousand spectators, the 2nd century BC well-preserved Stadion, the Agora and the colonnaded street with its water channel in the middle. Other significant structures in Perge are the necropolis, the city walls, gymnasium, Roman Baths, the monumental fountain and the Hellenistic and Roman gates.


The Roman city of Olympos

Olympos was an important port city in the region, known as a pirate haven in history. The Cilician pirate chief ‘Zeniketes’ used Olympos as a base so that the cult of the Lord of Light Mithras, a divinity of Eastern origin became the preponderant ancient cult in this port city.

Olympos experienced its most glorious era during the Roman Period. Losing its shine in the Late Christian period, Olympos was a trade hub of Venetian and Genoese merchants, during the 11th and 12th centuries. This activity vanished as a result of 15th century Ottoman naval supremacy.

The most interesting ruins to be seen in Olympos are the sarcophagus of Captain Eudomos and the Byzantine church with its interior partly decorated with frescoes.


Port city Phaselis

The ancient city of Phaselis is locat-ed amongst pine and cedar forests within the Bey Mountains National Park, 16 km west of Kemer. The town which was established by the Rhodians in 700 BC has three ports.

The 24 metres wide ancient street which runs through the middle of the city, the ‘Hadrian Waterway Gate’, the ruins of Roman baths, agora and theatre are remarkable components of the ancient city.


Side, an important port city

Side which was the principal port city of Pamphylia in the Archaic Period turned into an important urban cen-tre in the 7th century BC. Emperor Augustus reformed the state administration and placed Pamphylia and Side under his direct authority in 25 BC, within the Roman province of Galatia.

The ruins visible today in Side belong mostly to structures from the Roman period. The Side Amphitheatre has a particular relevance as to its architecture. It is the only theatre of the Antique world which is built on arch-vaulted buttresses, whereas the theatres in other cities were built in such a way as to lean against the flanks of a hillside.

Another important compo-nent of the ancient city is the aqueduct that brought water to the city from the Manavgat River. The arches span a distance of approxi-mately 40 km from the water source to the city. Adopting a polytheistic religion until the Byz-antine period, the people of Side built several temples for the gods, among other, for Athena, Apollo and western Anatolian god Men.

Grain barn Patara

Known as Patar in Hittite language and Pattara in the Lycian language, Patara’s history goes back to the 8th century BC. The city has become very important during the Roman period and served as the capital of Lycia Pamphylia provinces.

Patara was a crucial port for the storage and distribution of grain. One of the three major grain stores (granarium) of the Eastern Mediterranean region was in Patara.

Having continued its development during the Byzantine period, the city was also considered important by Christians. Saint Nicholas, known as Santa Claus, is said to be from Patara.

Most of the buildings still standing today date from the Roman-Byzantine and even Medieval periods. The Lycian rock-cut sarcophagi on the hill slopes, the Theatre, the inscription on the eastern entrance gate, the Vespasian Baths and the Corinthian Temple are among the significant ruins of the ancient city.


Rock-cut tombs in Myra

The ancient city of Myra was Lycia’s metropolis in the early days of Christianity. Saint Nicholas, also known today as Santa Claus, was the Bishop of the diocese of Myra in the 4th century.

St. Nicholas Church and the city’s two Lycian necropolises are worth seeing. Especially the rock-cut tombs situated on the cliff above the theatre offer a magnificent view from distance.


Simena composed of islands

The ancient city Simena, nowadays known as Kaleköy, has no road con-nection to its hinterland. This ancient city is usually reached by sea from nearby Çayağzı. The city situated at the shores of Kekova Bay, is one of the settlements under heritage protection. The place has an interesting natural topography.

It consists of a group of islands with sarcophagi on top. Simena offering a unique view also with its strong castle was men-tioned for the first time in ancient sources during the 2nd century BC. The inscriptions in Lycian language on the rock tombs north of the Castle, testify to the old age of the city. The castle contains a small theatre carved into the rock which is a most interesting landmark.


The mountaintop Termessos

One of the most striking historical sites protected in the forest is Termes-sos. The ruins of the city start with the Hellenistic walls situated on the road from Antalya to Korkuteli and extend all the way to the summit of Mount Güllük.

The monumental entrance and the steps leading to the temple built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian and the ruins of the Gymnasium are still visible. Most of the ruins in the city belong to the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The most outstanding ruin is the tomb of Alketas, one of the important generals of Alexander the Great’s era.


Tombs of Xanthos

Located at the westernmost of Antalya, Xanthos which served as the capi-tal of Lycia in ancient times was an important station. Rock-cut tombs, sarcophagi, tombs and funerary monuments stand out among the ruins of the city dating back to the 8th century BC.


Selge, Kaş and others

The list of ancient cities in the province of Antalya is quite long. For example, the district of Kaş is surrounded with ruins of smaller antique towns such as Istlada, Apollonia, Isinda and Kyaenai. Selge, which is one of the mountain cities of ancient Pisidia, is situated at an altitude of 1250 meters on the southern slopes of the Taurus Mountains. The city walls, the temple, agora, fountain and ruins of the necropolis are remains that can be seen.

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