. . . one of the most attractive towns to be seen anywhere.
Antalya and the surrounding Mediterranean coast are Turkey at its most staggeringly beautiful. Ibn Battuta, the celebrated Arab traveler who visited Antalya in the fourteenth century, was simply stunned by the city’s prosperity and aesthetic glory, still much on display in the lovingly restored old city. Beyond Antalya proper, jade-colored waters lap sandy shores against a backdrop of steep, forested hills. Step off the gorgeous beaches to explore ancient cities from Olympos to Perge (fifth through fourth centuries BCE), all part of the ancient Lycian civilization that stretched from the bay of Antalya to Fethiye in the west. Saint Nicholas—the inspiration for today’s Santa Claus—was born in Demre, and the ancient sites of Xanthos and Letoön were named UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1988. Whether you fancy a seaside holiday of sun and sand or a glimpse into Mediterranean civilizations more than two thousand years old, Antalya is the base for the perfect vacation.
Once seen simply as the gateway to Turkey’s stunning Mediterranean coast, Antalya today is very much a destination in its own right. Originally founded in the second century BCE on the Gulf of Antalya, this largest Turkish city on the western Mediterranean is both classically beautiful and stylishly modern. At its core is the wonderfully preserved old city district of Kaleiçi (literally “within the castle”), offering atmospheric dining and shopping within exquisitely restored Ottoman houses.
Originally established by the Hittites circa 1500 BCE, the ancient city of Perge witnessed two golden ages: the Hellenistic period (second to third centuries BCE) and again under the Romans (second to third centuries CE). Most of the ruins at Perge date from the Roman period, first excavated by Turkish archaeologists in 1946, and a selection of the statues discovered—many in stunningly magnificent condition—are now on display in the Antalya Archaeological Museum.
Atop a rock outcrop at Kınık are the ruins of ancient Xanthos, once the capital and grandest city of Lycia, with a fine Roman theater and pillar tombs. A short uphill walk brings you to the city gates and the plinth where the fabulous Nereid Monument of sea-nymphs (now in the British Museum in London) once stood. For all its grandeur, Xanthos endured a checkered history of wars and destruction.
Kekova & Simena
The rambling ruins of ancient Olympos are scattered beside the Ulupınar stream and set inside a deeply shaded valley that runs directly to the sea. Originally settled circa 300 BCE, the city at Olympos went into decline during the first century BCE, perhaps due to pirate raids. The arrival of the Romans at the end of the first century CE brought about the city's rejuvenation, as its citizens amassed considerable wealth due to the settlement’s strategic commercial position.
Kas & Kalkan
Known today as Demre, ancient Myra played a critical role in the second-century BCE Lycian alliance and eventually became a significant site for early Christians. The exact date of the city's foundation is still unknown, but the first textual mention of Myra dates from the first century BCE. Saint Nicholas was Myra’s most celebrated citizen in the first century CE, and the church erected in his honor was built in the sixth century. The fifth-century Eastern Roman emperor, Theodosius II, made Myra the capital of the local region, until the city fell to the Harun Ar-Rashid in 808 CE after a siege and went into decline.