This article has been previously published as a part of book Antalya, Side and Alanya: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
Side, situated halfway between Antalya and Alanya, is not only a popular resort on the Mediterranean coast but also a magnificently preserved ancient city. In ancient times it flourished in the slave trade, which contributed to the wealth and power of this settlement. Even if you are not beach bunnies, do not miss out Side as located on the ruins from the Hellenistic and Roman times are a huge tourist attraction, and the local museum, operating in former Roman baths, has many interesting exhibits.
The beginnings of the settlement
Side was founded in the 7th century BCE by Greek settlers from Kyme in Eolia, a land located in the north-western part of Anatolia. The patron goddess of the town was Athena, whose head was depicted on the coins minted in Side. However, the Greek origins of Side inhabitants were quickly forgotten, and the descendants of Greek colonists took over the language and customs of the local people. That language, examples of which have been discovered on the inscriptions from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, has not yet been understood by researchers. However, it is known, that the name of the city meant pomegranate in the local dialect.
Thanks to its favourable location at the natural harbour Side quickly became one of the most significant settlements in Pamphylia and a trading station of the region. In the 6th century BCE, Side came under the rule of Lydia and later Persia, but little is known about this period of history.
In 333 BCE, Alexander the Great took control of Side without a fight, and before embarking on his great journey to the east, he left a small garrison there. This way Side residents came in contact with Hellenistic culture. After Alexander's death, Side fell under the control of one of diadochi - Ptolemy I Soter, who declared himself the king of Egypt. The dynasty descended from Ptolemy ruled over Side until the 2nd century BCE when the city was occupied by the Seleucids. Throughout this period Side maintained a significant degree of independence and was an important cultural centre of Pamphylia.
In 190 BC a fleet owned by the city-state of Rhodes, supported by Rome and Pergamon, defeated the Seleucid king Antiochus. Under the terms of the peace treaty concluded in Apamea in 188 BCE, Pamphilia became a part of the Kingdom of Pergamon. However, the actual power of Pergamon reached only as far as Perge, leaving the areas located to the east, including Side, in a state of practical independence. In this period the Pergamon King, Attalos II Philadelphus, ordered the construction of a new harbour, located in Attalia (the present Antalya).
In the period from 188 to 67 BCE, Side was a free city and minted its own coins, tetradrachms with the goddess Nike and a laurel wreath. In the first century BCE, the city became the main naval base of pirates from Cilicia and, consequently, the centre of the slave trade. In 78 BCE, the pirates from Side were defeated by the Roman consul Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus, and in 67 BCE they suffered a final defeat, this time at the hands of general Pompey. It meant a de facto takeover of Side by Rome.
In 25 BCE, Emperor Augustus reformed the administration, and according to new provisions Pamphilia, and hence Side, was incorporated into the Roman province of Galatia. The wealth of the city during this period came not only from the slave trade but also from the sale of olive oil. The population rose to 60,000 and a period of prosperity lasted until the 3rd century CE. The merchant fleet of Side often played a double game - of peaceful merchants and, in favourable circumstances, bloodthirsty pirates. Wealthy traders allocated a significant proportion of their income for the development of the city and its beautification. They sponsored new public buildings, gladiatorial combats and games. Most of the ancient buildings preserved until today in Side date back to this period of history.
Byzantine times and Arab raids
In the 4th century CE, a gradual decline of the Side began. Even the mighty city walls were not able to stop the invasions of local tribes from the Taurus Mountains. In the 5th and 6th centuries CE, Side gained a respite and even became the seat of the Bishop of Eastern Pamphylia. However, in the 7th century an Arabic fleet attacked Side, and after conquering it the invaders ransacked and burned most of the city. In the 10th century the city was almost entirely deserted, and in the 12th century its remaining residents moved on to Antalya. The memory of the power of Side was gradually forgotten, and the ruins of ancient structures were simply called 'Old Antalya'.
Under the rule of the Seljuks and the Ottomans Side was not inhabited. It was only in 1895 that Turkish refugees from Crete settled among its ruins. Over time, their small community grew to the size of the village, called Selimiye.
Today, Side is a well-known holiday resort. However, at the same time, it managed to keep much of the charm of a small village, which it actually was just a few decades ago. Holidays in Side are particularly recommended to the people who do not care so much for crazy fun until dawn as the lovers of parties and discos choose to stay in Alanya. On the other hand, Side is a place close to ideal for those seeking the respite from everyday life combined with an opportunity to see some relics from ancient times. In addition, local micro-climate is much nicer than the one prevailing in Alanya as Side is located slightly further away from the Taurus mountain range, resulting in lower air humidity.
The first systematic description of Side dates back to 1890, when the city was visited by the Austrian team of researchers, under the leadership of Niemann and Petersen. From 1947 until 1966 archaeological excavations in Side were conducted by the team led by Professor Arif Müfida Mansel. His work was later continued by Professor Jale Inan and Haluk Abbasoğlu. Since 2009 the latest round of archaeological work in Side has been realised, now under the leadership of Professor Peter Scherrer of the University of Graz (Austria).
For lovers of ancient history, Side has a great appeal. It retains many relics from the days when the city flourished as a centre of trade. The most impressive monuments include the theatre from the Roman period, the ruins of three temples: of Apollo, Athena and Men, situated in a picturesque area close to the sea coast, near the harbour, and the Roman baths building near the agora which now operates as Archaeological Museum of Side. This small establishment hides a fascinating collection of ancient statues and sarcophagi.
There are other historic buildings, situated on a vast area of Side peninsula. Most noteworthy of them is the commercial agora, where, in 2013, the temple of the goddess Tyche was restored, and two colonadded streets with the remains of houses and shops.
In addition, in Side there is a ruined Byzantine hospital, a magnificent nymphaeum, which was supplied with water from the Taurus Mountains by a system of aqueducts, and monumental gate with the adjoining fountain, known as Vespasian Monument.
Those of you that choose to spend some more time wandering around Side will also find the ruins of the library from the 2nd century AD, the basilica from the Byzantine period, two more baths buildings (harbour and major), the Temple of Dionysus (at the theatre) and a necropolis. We recommend a whole day spend on exploring these souvenirs of ancient times.
The historical centre of Side is closed to car traffic. This is the stretch from the vicinity of the ancient theatre to the marina and the area where the remains of the Temple of Apollo stand proudly. Cars must be left on parking lots outside the pedestrianised zone.
The street leading to the harbour - Liman Caddesi - is a string of souvenir, clothing and jewellery shops, and it is a typical tourist trap. Just before you enter the harbour, you will reach a square with the statue of Atatürk, which boasts a post office and decent, albeit paid, toilets.
A string of restaurants overlooking the sea is situated along the marina, but the prices in those premises are prohibitive. You can also eat a sandwich with fish or köfte (Turkish meatballs), sold straight from the boats in the harbour. At the end of Liman Caddesi, there is a stand with ice cream made from goat milk. Freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice is also available there.
Side tourist information, located near the ancient theatre, welcomes tourists with colourful brochures and city plans, but its employees have only a halting command of foreign languages. The main beach in Side stretches to the north of the historical peninsula. It is a sandy beach with a gentle descent into the water.
In the yacht harbour, you can purchase a cruise without the use of intermediaries. The shortest option - a boat trip along the coast of Side - costs 5 euros (children under four years free). You can also take a boat trip up the river to Manavgat waterfall (for 15 euros with a meal included) or a longer cruise along the coast combined with swimming stops at the nearby islands (20 euros with a simple meal).
By bus: from Alanya or Antalya direction to Manavgat where it is necessary to switch to a minibus or a taxi.
By car: Side is situated 4 km to the south-west of the main road of the region, i.e. D400 route from Antalya to Alanya. The distance to Antalya is 78 km and to Alanya - 66 km. From D400 route turn off in Manavgat, according to the indication of huge brown signposts.
If you plan to spend in Side a longer period and only do local tours, the good idea is to buy a holiday package from a travel agency - the price of transport, insurance and accommodation may prove to be more attractive than in the case of self-organizing such an expedition.
However, if you plan to stay in Side only for a few days, then you should consider the following options (prices are for double room with breakfast, unless otherwise noted):
- Memory Apart Hotel - in the district of Kemer Mah., 1503 Sokak No. 8. It offers apartments for rent, from 20 euros per night, has a swimming pool, but it is located quite far from the sea;
- Myra Apart Hotel - in the heart of Cennetler Mah. district, on Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bulvarı 1534 Sokak 2/4. These are also apartments for rent, from 30 euros per night, with a swimming pool;
- Belen Hotel - Selimiye Mah. district, Lale Sokak No 12. The hotel is located in the area of the ancient city, 50 meters from the beach, with a breakfast buffet, from 35 euros;
- Ilhan Motel - Street Cagla Sokak 6/1. Also in the historic centre and near the beach, with a garden, from 40 euros;
- Side Apart Hotel - in the heart of Yali Mah beach district, 1112 Sokak No. 7. This hotel offers spacious apartments with a kitchenette, which can accommodate up to 4 people, has a swimming pool and a garden, from 45 euros (breakfast extra charge).