Summertime has just begun and the holiday season is coming. Every year hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers arrive to the Turkish Riviera, the coastal strip of Mediterranean region of Turkey between Antalya and Alanya. Most of them will spend their leisure time sunbathing, swimming and dancing in numerous nightclubs. Some of these holidaymakers, however, will decide to take a trip to some of the region's most famous archaeological sites. You have most probably already heard of, or even visited, such places as Side, Aspendos or Perge. But this overcrowded region, known in ancient times as Pamphylia, has much more to offer to archaeology buffs, such as ourselves. If you find yourself being bored on the beach, go and explore some of the less known and rarely visited archaeological sites of the region. Here's where you can go to make the best of your time.
The ruins of Selge are hidden deep in the mountains, in the heart of the Köprülü Canyon National Park. Most of the visitors to this area are the tourists doing white-water rafting on Köprüçay river. However, the existence of Selge ruins has become less arcane as it has been promoted by the newly signposted St. Paul's walking trail that leads through Altınkaya village.
The location of Selge, in Taurus mountains, on the banks of ancient Eurymedon river, provided the city with great natural defences. Reaching Selge from the coast was extremely challenging and required crossing numerous rivers and streams. The most spectacular reminder of these difficulties is the Roman bridge over Oluk Köprü (i.e. Eurymedon of antiquity) that still serves the travellers heading to Selge.
Water was brought to Selge via an aqueduct and the system of terraces was created to collect water and irrigate the fields. The most interesting local produce used to be iris roots that provided crucial ingredients for the massage ointment and the resin from the wounded bark of Liquidambar orientalis Mill. (oriental sweetgum) for the production of Styrax balsam. The city dwellers also traded in olive oil and wine. The meadows surrounding Selge were excellent pastures for famous Aspendos horses.
In the end of the 3rd century BC Selge was the most powerful city in the region. According to ancient historians the city could muster 20 thousand soldiers if necessary.
Impossible as it seems the ruins of Selge have never been systematically excavated. In the 19th century Selge was visited by European travellers, among them Polish historian, Karol Lanckoroński, who arrived there in 1886 and published a detailed description of the city.
The most picturesque ancient building in Selge is its theatre, constructed in the 2nd century AD. Its skene has collapsed, but the auditorium, supported by the mountain slope, is in good condition. For the highest row of seats one can enjoy an excellent view of Köprülü Canyon National Park.
Beside the theatre, there are the traces of the stadium which provided construction materials for the houses in Altınkaya village. Moreover, it is possible to find scanty remains of some structures on the acropolis hill above the village - among them there are two temples, a marketplace and an odeon.
Getting there: you really need a car to visit Selge. Turn off the main coastal road (D400) that connects Antalya and Alanya on the crossroads between Manavgat (25 km to the east) and Serik (14 km to the west). The turn-off is signposted and hard to miss. Selge ruins lie on the altitude of 1000 meters and the coordinates of the site are: 37.229, 31.1268
With the inauguration of a new airport, situated east of Alanya, many travellers have heard of Gazipaşa for the first time. Up till now this small town has been bypassed by the touristic boom, however this area has been inhabited for many millennia and ancient city of Selinus appeared in the annals of history as the place of death of Roman emperor Trajan.
The earliest traces of settlement near Gazipaşa come from the Hittite period and are dated to 2000 BC. The scholars suppose that the area had been inhabited much earlier as excellent farming conditions as well as a natural harbour must have attracted settlers from prehistoric times.
According to Assyrian sources in 628 BC Phoenicians settled in the area and their city - Sallune - provided an important communication link with Cypruss. In Hellenistic times, as Selinus, this city became a bone of contention between the generals of Alexander the Great. In 197 BC Selinus was incorporated into the Roman Empire.
In 117 AD emperor Trajan was returning from his Parthian campaign in Mesopotamia. In spring of this year his condition rapidly deteriorated, preventing him from going back to Rome. He passed away on the 9th of August in Selinus, after appointing Hadrian as the next emperor. His successor brought the ashes of Trajan back to Rome and renamed the place of his death as Trajanopolis.
The first ancient monument greeting visitors in Selinus are the long stretches of aqueduct that run from the north-east to the centre of the city.
The most characteristic building in Selinus is emperor Trajan's cenotaph. This symbolic tomb, that commemorated Trajan's death, is a two-storied building. The lower floor was a symbolic tomb and the upper floor served as a small temple. In Seljuk times this cenotaph was used as a hunting lodge and called Şekerhane Köşkü.
Nearby the cenotaph, there are two well-preserved structures. The first one is the odeon from Hellenistic period. The archaeologists have cleared this area, revealing the rectangular building on the slope of the low hill. Next to the odeon magnificent Roman baths are situated. Further to the west there are traces of an agora and other, smaller baths. The eastern slope of the hill served as a necropolis with numerous vaulted tombs still visible.
Getting there: if you have a car, drive 46 km east of Alanya, following D400 road, than turn right in Gazipaşa, into Uğur Mumcu Caddesi street. After further 2.5 km turn left, go over the river and turn right. Leave the car 500 meters from the bridge, next to the Trajan's cenotaph.
It's also possible to visit Selinus by public transport. The buses going from Antalya and Alanya to Mersin and Adana pass the centre of Gazipaşa. Alternatively, take a minibus from Alanya's Cuma Pazarı (Friday Market). If you choose public transport, you'll have to walk or hike the last 3.5 km from Gazipaşa to Selinus ruins. The coordinates of the site are: 36.2612, 32.2845
3. Lyrbe (Seleucia)
Off the beaten track, in Taurus mountains, lie picturesque ruins of ancient Lyrbe. Recently the road leading to this city has been tarmacked and tourists have started to arrive, mainly during so-called 'jeep safari' tours, but if you are lucky, you will have the ruins all to yourself.
There has been some misunderstanding related to the proper identification of this city and many maps indicate this location as Seleucia. As the matter of fact the Macedonian city of Seleucia was most probably situated on the coast and Lyrbe is a different city, with its name indicating Luwian origin.
Impressive city walls greet the visitors to the site. The main reason why anyone should see Lyrbe is its impressive agora, splendidly preserved, with a small odeon opening off from its side. In some places the walls of this agora reach two storeys and there are some Doric columns still in place.
If you spend some time exploring the area above the agora you will find the remains of a small podium temple surrounded by the forest as well as some houses and a building that most probably served as bathhouse. The exploration of Lyrbe is challenging as many structures are hard to identify and the area is overgrown with trees and bushes.
Getting there: you may join a jeep safari tour or hire a taxi in Manavgat that will take you to Lyrbe. To avoid the crowds rent a car and come in the afternoon. The road to Lyrbe starts in Manavgat and leads 13 km north to the gates of the ancient city. On your way make a stop next to the Roman aqueduct that stretches next to the road. The coordinates of the site are: 36.874001, 31.475334.
Everybody knows Alanya, right? But how well do you know the area around this summer resort? Let's check it out - have you ever heard of Syedra? It's quite a surprise to find these extensive ruins just around the corner, waiting to be explored. Despite its closeness to Alanya - it's just 20 km east of the city centre - Syedra is virtually unknown to millions of people who have visited Alanya. We'll try to change that!
The history of Syedra goes back to the 7th century BC and the city was continuously inhabited until the 13th century AD. Syedra had its golden age in the 2nd century AD when the city walls were erected around the whole settlement on the top of Asar hill. In this period the number of inhabitants reached 4500 people.
In historical records Syedra appeared very late, in the 1st century BC, so not much is known about its distant past. In 194 AD Roman emperor Septimius Severus wrote a letter praising Syedra and its citizens for their courage during pirates' attacks. The letter contents were copied into a stone which is now exhibited in Alanya Museum.
The most important buildings one can still see in Syedra include: magnificent Roman baths, gymnasium, colonnaded street, five water cisterns, a temple, a church and olive oil workshop. Unfortunately there are practically no traces of a theatre. A keen eye will pick up the remains of houses and artisans' workshops. First Christian community in Syedra held baptism ceremonies in the cave near the city and the fragments of the frescoes that decorated its interior are still visible.
Getting there: the only option of going to Syedra is by car. From the centre of Alanya drive east along the coast and turn off north on the 20th kilometre. The next leg of the trip can be challenging as the narrow road goes uphill and the last 1.5 km is unpaved. The last thing one could expect after this ride is a decent parking place and that's exactly what awaits you in Syedra. Expect to pay 5 TL for the ticket. The coordinates of the site are: 36.4445, 32.1497.
5. Karain Cave
Karain Cave is one of those places of great historical importance that require a lot of determination and imagination from the travellers. The cave, situated west of Antalya, was continuously inhabited for 25 thousand years. It is also the largest cave in Turkey where the traces of human settlements have been found.
The oldest artefacts from Karain Cave have been dated to the Upper Paleolithic. This period is represented by a fragment of Homo neanderthalensis skull that is 200 thousand years old. The researchers have demonstrated that the cave was inhabited throughout Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age. In the period of Greek colonisation in Asia Minor the cave served as a religious sanctuary and decorative niches were carved above the entrance. The finds from Karain Cave have provided precious information concerning flora, fauna and climate of the prehistoric period in this area.
The cave is situated on the slopes of Sam Dağı mountain, 390 meters above sea level. Below the cave a wide travertine plain stretches which is now an arable land, but in Pleistocene it was covered with water. The cave consists of three main chambers, separated by thin calcite walls and interconnected by narrow, winding passages. Inside the chambers stalactites and stalagmites can be seen. Many artefacts from Karain Cave are now on display in Antalya Archaeological Museum and in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
The cost of the ticket to the cave is 5 TL. From the ticket booth a steep and rocky path leads up the mountain, wear sturdy shoes and take a bottle of water with you.
Getting there: there is no public transport going to the cave. If you have a car, from the centre of Antalya take the Burdur road (D650) and after 25 km turn off left. The crossroads are clearly signposted. The road called Karain Caddesi will take you directly to the car parking near the cave. Alternatively, take a taxi from Antalya and expect to pay 130 TL for the round trip. If you visit Karain Cave do not forget about magnificent ruins of ancient Termessos nearby, but that is another story. The coordinates of the site are: 37.0763, 30.5707.