Legend has it that Antalya was founded when Attalos II of Pergamum sent his servants off in all directions to find a ‘Paradise on earth’. The city’s setting, amongst the pine forests in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains, overlooking a wide, sweeping bay, is indeed beautiful. The view changes at different times of the day, with the Mediterranean vivid blue or glittering silver, and the backdrop of mountains in receding ranks of blue, grey and purple. In some places, waterfalls cascade over cliffs into the sea below.
Antalya today is a prosperous city of about a million people, built up around the old city centre of Kaleici, a typical walled town with winding cobbled streets and restored Ottoman houses. Most of the houses have a bay window projecting from the upper storey and a courtyard garden full of olive and citrus trees at the back. We stayed in one which has been converted into a pension – they are full of character and the bay window is perfect for checking out the passing parade in the streets below. The only remaining gate into the old town is Hadrian’s Gate, built in honour of the Emperor’s visit in 130AD, so we got to walk in his footsteps as we have done those of Julius Caesar, Octavian, Alexander, Archimedes, Hippocrates … and countless others! The ancient port is now a harbour for fishing boats and tourist gulets. There is no space for cruising yachts, but a new marina is under construction a few miles further around the bay.
You’d think we’d have had enough of archaeological museums by now, but the one in Antalya is a must see. It has the usual Mediterranean layers of history and prehistory, but the highlight here is the “Room of the Gods”, a collection of fine marble statues of classical gods and emperors taken from the theatre at Perge. It is an exceptional display, with each piece skillfully highlighted in the darkened room. Pride of place in the museum is a marble known as The Weary Hercules, whose bottom half was discovered by archaeologist Jale Inan at Perge, then matched to his top half discovered in a fine arts museum in Boston. Negotiations ensued, but as you can see, it was a bit difficult to argue that the pieces did not belong together – and the Turks argued that they belonged together in Antalya, close to where they originated.
Next day, appropriately enough, we journeyed out to the ruins of Perge, about 17k out of town and easily reached on the marvelous Turkish bus system. Perge was a Roman city which became prominent after the Trojan War (1275 BC), though earlier relics have been found. The theatre from which most of the marbles were excavated was closed off, but you could still get a pretty good look at the three tiered stage, where, according to the reconstruction at the museum, the marble gods were displayed. The University of Istanbul is still working on the extensive site – you can’t help wondering what treasures might lie beneath your feet as you walk the streets of the ancient city.
After a long day of walking, a visit to the Turkish Baths was in order, so we headed down to the historic hammam a block from our pension for a scrub down and massage - the works for about $20 each. Terry was expecting the full Turkish wrestler treatment in the blokes’ section, but it turned out to be quite gentle. Afterwards we found a great fish restaurant (Chef’s) where we had a plate of fried anchovies, a plate of sardines and a plate of calamari for TL31. You get a basic salad, dip, water and pita bread free. So for $A16, we had dinner in a good quality restaurant on “restaurant alley” in Antalya. That’s $A8 each. It was so good we went back the next night and had exactly the same. Beers are a little more expensive though in Turkey so they added $A2.50 each to the bill.
On our third day we thought we were old hands at the bus system, so we attempted to make our way to a local beauty spot called Duden Falls. Tip: it is much better to get a bus to the central Otogar and then find one to your destination than to try to connect up the various suburban routes. Apparently no-one in Turkey understands the mysteries of suburban bus routes, but they are all too polite to tell you they can’t help you, and will direct you very helpfully all over town. Two hours later we did reach Duden – an extraordinary watery paradise in the middle of a featureless outer suburb of Antalya. Freezing cold crystal clear water tumbles in torrents down from the mountains; there are ancient fern-covered trees and caves where you can actually wander in behind the falls to view the scenery through a curtain of water. The park was full of Turkish families and young couples relaxing in this cool, green, secret paradise.
Home to Finike, but not for long. Next up was a day trip by bus to Arykanda, around 27k from here, at the foot of Falcon Mountain. Now this was a revelation! No tour buses or souvenir shops – in fact, no-one but us, arriving near the town of Arif Koyu where a few villagers have set up a street market at the bus stop where the track up to the ruins begins. But what a site it is! You hike up the hill (stopping to pay 5TL at a booth if there’s anyone there – if there’s not, you’ll meet the guy somewhere in the park) and discover the remains of an extensive Roman/Lycian town, built on five terraces against the vast cliff face of the mountain. It is in better condition than any of the other sites we’ve visited, and the different buildings are clearly identifiable. There are even some mosaic floors still intact.
Apparently Arykanda was never admitted to full voting rights in the Lycian League as it had the reputation of a profligate party town, always in debt. The ruins support the story: there are three theatres (for drama, poetry readings and music), a stadium, a large commercial agora for shopping, and a substantial wine press – clearly a town devoted to pleasure! The setting is amazing: sitting in the large theatre, you have a view out over the whole valley and the surrounding mountains. Pine and cedar trees shade the remains of the town and thyme and mint grow up between the paving stones. Terracotta shards are everywhere – you pick up a fragment and imagine a potter turning a clay vessel, a woman filling it with oil – two thousand years ago!
We had this entire site all to ourselves, and wandered freely around, imagining the lives of the people who lived there in the second century BC.
On the way back down the track we stopped in at the Arykanda Pension and Restaurant for a delicious lunch of grilled lamb and their specialty – fresh trout from ponds built into the mountain streams. A nice grilled trout sets you back 10TL – that’s about $A5 – and of course there’s free pita, dips and water thrown in. You sit sipping your Efes beer looking out over an awesome view of forested mountains and valleys full of orange groves, with the ruins behind you and the sound of streams cascading and birds everywhere. Then, just as you think it can’t get any better, a herd of beautiful little deer comes racing down the mountainside and the restaurant owner hands you some binoculars to check them out. We hung out in the market for a while waiting for the bus, and got to sample some of the mountain water that seems to gush from every tap, pipe and hole in the rock around here.
Don’t miss Arykanda if you ever happen to be in this part of the world.
Next week we’re off to a town called Kemer to obtain our Turkish Residency permits – about $200 gets you a “blue book” which gives you a Turkish Tax File number so you can get into doctors and hospitals cheaply, plus you can come and go through the airports like a Turk can. We’re probably going to go for a year’s permit. We’re off to Cappadocia for a 4-day trip with others from the marina on the 21st, then it’s home again on December 9th – can’t wait to see you all!