When we first arrived last night at the Khan Hotel in Antalya, our initial thought was to skip all extra trips and spend time right in town, exploring the city and hanging out in our wonderful suite with the view. But we also wanted to actually see the place, Perga, where the amazing sculptures came from, so we signed up for the extra afternoon tour of Aspendos and Perga.
The morning was gorgeous, clear and beautiful with sunlight on the Bey Mountains (part of the Taurus Range) to the west and we knew it would be a great day to be traveling along the Mediterranean. After our standard breakfast of olives, bread, cheese, yogurt and honey for me and hard boiled egg and cereal for Mo, we boarded the bus for the drive west along the coast. Antalya is interesting in that it really is a fairly new city in spite of the ancient history of the Old Town portion and the innumerable ruins from the Hellenistic and Roman periods that surround the city in both directions. Most of the buildings in the major part of town however, are dated from the 50’s when western tourists discovered the magnificent climate, beautiful seas and beaches, and mountains. It makes for a rather boring city with canyons of cement cubes and streets without much character, especially compared to the creative chaos of Istanbul.
As we drove west along the beaches the mountains loomed up larger than life, with huge cliffs dropping right to the Mediterranean.
Approaching our first ruin of the day, the ancient Lycian town of Phaselis, we drove through thick forests of red pine with wide vistas of the sea and mountains, and open roads with no traffic, which was especially nice since they came close to the HWY 1 roads along the Big Sur coast of California.
Phaselis was established by the Greeks from the island of Rhodes as early as the 7th century, fell to the Persians and then later to Alexander the Great after he defeated the Persions. The city was in Egyptian hands for a short time, but after 160 BCE it became part of the Lycian culture that was actually under Roman rule. Because of its 3 beautiful harbors, rich timber resources, and fresh water sources it was a target for pirates repeatedly throughout its history, with losses during the Byzantine period and then as late as the 11th century when it ceased to be an important port and eventually vanished entirely.
The ruins themselves are not especially exciting, a great remnant of a Roman aqueduct, some large baths, and a truly beautiful theater are the standouts, but the setting is probably the most beautiful in all of Turkey. The harbors are especially gorgeous, with crystal water, sandy and rocky beaches surrounded by forests and Mt Olympus, one of 22 such named mountains in Greece and Turkey, rising to more than 7,000 feet above the sea.
Our visit was leisurely, with time to put our feet in the Mediterranean, hike up to the top of the theater, and take lots of photos of the amazing mountains and lovely forest. It was warm and sunny, and one of only two capri days for Mo and I on our trip. Interesting tidbit regarding the decline of the city had to do with the fresh water marshes that still exist nearby. Malaria was one of the scourges of this lovely climate by the sea with plenty of fresh water, so between pirates and illness it faded away into history.
Winding our way back along the coast and to Antalya, we were conflicted in our choice to go on the afternoon tour and at the last moment I very nearly jumped the bus in order to have time to explore the bustling city and wander the streets in freedom. Glad we didn’t do that, however, because our visit to the Roman theater at Aspendos was one of the highlights of Antalya. Aspendos was the eastern most city of the kingdom of Pergamon, the culture responsible for the gorgeous city on top the hill near Kusadasi that we saw on Day 6. This Roman amphitheater was built in AD 162 and is the most beautifully preserved Roman theater in the world. I climbed to the top of the theater, walking the gallery, and imagined the beautiful façade that once held many of the sculptures that we saw yesterday in the museum. Some people from the group sang for us to demonstrate the amazing acoustics, although I really wished my daughter Melody could have been the one singing there for me. I also took photos of the backstage area and how it looked to walk backstage onto the main stage with that huge arena in front of you. The Helenistic period was dominate by theater, comedies and tragedies, and it wasn’t until the Romans that these theaters became a venue for beast fights and gladiators. There were remnants of the fences that separated spectators from the animals, and the gaping hole where the lions emerged was impressive. We both really loved this theater and were glad we didn’t miss it.
The trip to Perga very late in the day was somewhat of an anticlimax, with ruins not as impressive as Ephesus, or as well preserved. There are ongoing archaeological digs that were interesting, and there is still so much to be explored. After seeing all the artifacts from this place in the museum, and looking at all the mounds surrounding the area, it is great imagining what waits to be found here.
We returned home after dark, somewhat sad that we had no time to explore the city of Antalya much, but still managed a walk through the pedestrian mall down to the sea wall and the bazaar that bordered the old city and the sea. It was pretty quiet, with many of the summer tourist restaurants closed and dark, but still lots of younger people walking about and again the standard groups of young Turkish men hanging around smoking and talking. There really weren’t many women about, but the presence of some young couples walking the promenade and the general respectful nature of the Turkish men gave us a reasonable sense of safety even in the dark evening. Still, I didn’t carry a handbag, used a clip to hook my wallet inside my pocket, and kept my hand on it the entire time. Although Suleyman warned us about the few people who might be less than honest, we never had any problems the entire time we were in the country, for which I am grateful. There was nothing of the pushing and shoving and invasion of personal space that Mo experienced in Morocco which I had expected might be a problem. The men in Turkey that we encountered were invariably charming, and entertaining, but the women were guarded and not the least bit inclined to be taken in by western tourists. Much like cats, the boys are all friendly and outgoing and the girls hang back and look at you with caution. I found this very different from Thailand where the women are incredibly sweet and kind and treated us with great friendliness.